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A Liberian-flagged fuel oil tanker off the coast of Iraq has been identified to be carrying a “suspicious object” according to sailors, which could be a mine.
The suspicious object was reported by authorities on Thursday, and comes as relations between the United States and Iran continue to sour.
According to two private security companies, sailors think they have found a limpet mine on the tanker MT Pola, a floating fuel oil storage tanker that is Liberian-flagged but owned by a shipping company traded in the United States. The vessel serves Iraq’s SOMO.
Limpet mines attach to the sides of ships near the surface of the water, usually place by a military diver, to later explode.
The U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet is monitoring the situation, a year after the U.S. accused Iran of attacking oil tankers in the Strait of Hormuz with limpet mines.
Tensions have escalated between the United States and Iran as President Trump’s term comes to a close. The United States has already sent B-52 bombers to fly over the area, as well as dispatched a submarine into the Persian Gulf, bracing for potential retribution from Iran for the U.S. killing of general Qassem Suleimani by an MQ-9 Reaper drone almost one year ago.
Iraq uses floating storage for fuel oil due to its lack of secondary conversion capacity that have idled refineries. In August, Iraq’s SOMO issued a tender to hire 13 tankers to store fuel and naphtha at both the Khor al-Zubair and Umm Qasr ports. The MT Pola was near Khor Al Zubair Port when what is thought to be a mine was discovered.
Despite this escalating tension in the Persian Gulf, the WTI and Brent benchmarks were both trading down on Thursday afternoon. At 12:20 p.m. EDT, WTI was trading down 0.52% at $48.15, while Brent was trading down 0.48% at $51.38.
Iraq process about 250,000 barrels of fuel oil per day—and any shutdown or even a slowdown of fuel oil exports could cause refineries in Iraq to shut down.
By Julianne Geiger for Oilprice.com
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Julianne Geiger is a veteran editor, writer and researcher for Oilprice.com, and a member of the Creative Professionals Networking Group.