An oil tanker passing through the Red Sea near Yemen suffered an attack on Wednesday perpetrated by unknown agents, according to the European Union’s naval forces.
The assailants used rocket-propelled grenades on a tanker bearing the Marshall Islands’ flag in the Bab al-Mandab Strait, which is the focus of the proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran being fought as the Yemeni Civil War.
Four million barrels of oil cross the strait on a daily basis, headed to various destinations in Europe, the United States, and Asia.
Yemen’s Red Sea port, near the Bab al-Mandab strait, is currently controlled by Shi’ite Houthis. Whichever party maintains control of it has a strategic advantage because it provides a direct connection the Middle East (where the world’s largest proven oil reserves are) and Sub-Saharan Africa (a region expected to see a four-fold increase in energy demand by 2040), making it a coveted geopolitical prize for regional powers, but a livelihood-destroying burden for the Yemeni people.
The Sunni coalition, led by Saudi Arabia and backed by Gulf allies, fears that if the Houthis gain full and lasting control of this port, they (and Iran) could use it to blackmail their enemies, paralyzing oil trade via the passage.
Holding roughly four billion barrels of oil reserves, Yemen itself makes limited use of the strait compared to the vast potential of the waterway. Roughly one year before the civil war began, Yemen’s oil production topped 127,000 barrels per day, but hostilities have forced the exit of virtually all international producers due to security concerns. Existing fields are close to maturity, and in the absence of new oil discoveries, the country’s crude reserves will be exhausted in less than a decade.
By Zainab Calcuttawala for Oilprice.com
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Zainab Calcuttawala is an American journalist based in Morocco. She completed her undergraduate coursework at the University of Texas at Austin (Hook’em) and reports on…