Saudi Arabia halted crude oil and oil product shipments via the Bab el Mandeb chokepoint in the Red Sea after a Houthi attack on two Saudi tankers near the port of Hodeidah yesterday.
Reuters quoted Saudi Oil Minister Khalid al-Falih as saying “Saudi Arabia is temporarily halting all oil shipments through Bab al-Mandeb Strait immediately until the situation becomes clearer and the maritime transit through Bab al-Mandeb is safe.”
Initial reports of the attacks only mentioned one tanker targeted by the Houthis, but later it became clear that two Very Large Crude Carriers had been targeted, one of which sustained minor damage.
Following the announcement, oil prices continued their climb that started earlier this week on reports from the American Petroleum Institute and the Energy Information Administration about falling crude oil and gasoline inventories.
The Bab el Mandeb strait is the route that most crude oil shipments through the Suez Canal take to reach international markets, with a daily throughput of some 4.8 million bpd of crude and oil products as of 2016. The strait is between the northeastern African coast and Yemen, and while in the past pirates from North Africa were the biggest threat for vessels there, now the Houthi-Saudi conflict has added substantial risks for maritime transport in the region.
The conflict, widely seen as a proxy war between Iran, which supports the Houthi militia, and Saudi Arabia, has escalated in recent months with a series of missile exchanges and a humanitarian crisis in Yemen that has turned into the worst one in recent history.
It has also naturally had an effect on the oil industry and international prices, with the Houthis early this year threatening to block Bab el Mandeb if the Saudi-led coalition forces tried to take the port of Hodeidah. The coalition nevertheless advanced on the port city and is currently fighting the Houthis for control over it.
By Irina Slav for Oilprice.com
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