Photo: Image Courtesy: Hafnia

Explosion rocks Hafnia tanker at Jeddah port

A Singapore-flagged LR1 Product tanker has been hit by an ‘external source’ whilst discharging at Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, on 14 December 2020, causing an explosion and subsequent fire onboard.

The tanker in question is the 2008-built BW Rhine and is owned and operated by Hafnia, part of BW Group.

Image Courtesy: Hafnia

“The Master immediately ceased all discharge operations and enacted emergency procedures onboard. The crew have extinguished the fire with assistance from the shore fire brigade and tug boats, and all 22 seafarers have been accounted for with no injuries,” Hafnia said in a statement.

The 76,600 dwt vessel sustained hull damages.

“It is possible that some oil has escaped from the vessel, but this has not been confirmed and instrumentation currently indicates that oil levels on board are at the same level as before the incident,” the tanker company added.

Cooling procedures and inerting of cargo space have been initiated to avoid reignition of fire. Ship stability is being assessed before proceeding with any further operations.

Hafnia said it is working with relevant authorities to ensure the ongoing security of the crew, vessel and environment.

It is not clear if Houthi rebels are behind the latest incident.

In a separate statement, Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Energy later confirmed that the tanker was attacked by an explosive-laden boat.

The ministry, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), the Arab League, Djibouti, Pakistan, Kuwait, Jordan, Bahrain, Lebanon and the UAE all condemned the attack, describing it as the ‘terrorist’ one.

The United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) advised vessels transiting the area “to exercise extreme caution” and said that investigations have been launched.

Incidents within the Red Sea

Previous incidents in the area have involved the use of waterborne improvised explosive device (WBIED) against vessels with the latest attack occurring at the Port of Al Shuqaiq on 23 November 2020.

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Attempts at targeting vessels and ports via such methods are reported with relative frequency with previous reporting indicating that Saudi forces interdicted and destroyed an attempted WBIED targeting the Saudi port of Jizan on 13 November 20, according to Dryad Global.

Additional incidents have involved vessels being struck by drifting sea-mines with Saudi naval forces having reportedly destroyed Houthi and Iranian mines on 14 and 24 November 2020, respectively. In addition, such an incident was reported to have occurred against the Greek-owned, Malta-flagged Aframax tanker whilst loading at the Rudum Terminal off the Yemeni south coast on 3 October this year.

“Incidents within the Red Sea have previously occurred however remain uncommon,” Dryad continued.

These have involved the targeting of the Saudi flagged vessels in transit by Houthi Rebels in the vicinity of the Hanish Islands. Previous incidents within the Red Sea have also involved the targeting of the Iranian flagged MT Sabiti in 2019 offshore Jeddah.

“This latest incident remains unclear however the presence of Houthi rebels offshore and 300nm north of their usual area of operations would represent a fundamental shift in both targeting capabilities and intent. If the incident is determined to be the result of malicious intent, it remains unlikely that such an incident was perpetuated by Houthi rebels targeting vessels off Jeddah with a methodology similar to that seen offshore Al Shuqaiq and Jizan,” the UK-based maritime security firm pointed out.

“If indeed the vessel has been targeted by an explosive device it remains a realistic possibility that the vessel was targeted via the presence of limpet mines, similar to that seen deployed by Iranian forces within the Gulf of Oman in 2019.”