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Drone boat targets Saudi port

Smoke seen rising; military says bomb-laden craft destroyed by The Associated Press | April 28, 2021 at 4:02 a.m.
In an April 2, 2021, photo released by the U.S. Navy, an Iranian Revolutionary Guard vessel cut in front of the U.S. Coast Guard ship USCGC Monomoy in the Persian Gulf. American and Iranian warships had a tense encounter in the Persian Gulf earlier this month, the first such incident in about a year amid wider turmoil in the region over Tehran's tattered nuclear deal, the U.S. Navy said Tuesday, April 27, 2021. (U.S. Navy via AP)

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates -- A remotely piloted boat packed with explosives targeted the Saudi port of Yanbu in the Red Sea on Tuesday, the kingdom said, with the blast sending black smoke into the sky off the coast.

Saudi Arabia claimed to have intercepted and destroyed the attack boat. However, private security firms suggested commercial traffic near the port may have been hit in the assault.

Details remained scarce, but the incident took place after a series of attacks on shipping in the wider Mideast region as part of a shadow war between Iran and Israel and against the backdrop of ongoing negotiations between Tehran and world powers over Iran's tattered nuclear deal.

The kingdom also is involved in a yearslong war against Yemen's Houthi rebels. The Houthis have in the past used bomb-laden drones and explosive-packed boats in attacks targeting the kingdom. However, the rebels did not immediately claim any assaults on Tuesday and did not respond to a request for comment.

The state-run Saudi Press Agency quoted Saudi military spokesman Col. Turki al-Maliki saying the port was targeted by the drone boat.

"The booby-trapped boat was dealt and destroyed according to the rules of engagement," the report quoted al-Maliki as saying, without providing evidence to support his claim.

The United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations, run by the British navy, said it was "aware of reports of an incident" and that investigations were ongoing. Private maritime security firm Dryad Global said it had reports that a ship had been "attacked," without elaborating.

Maritime security firm Neptune P2P Group reported that black smoke was seen billowing near the south entrance of the Yanbu port.

British maritime security firm Ambrey reported an "incident" off western Saudi Arabia, between the ports of Yanbu and Rabigh. Earlier Tuesday, smoke was seen rising from a vessel off the Saudi oil-shipping port of of Yanbu, the firm said. A number of tankers remain anchored or drifting in the area.

Yanbu port control broadcast a message by marine VHF radio, warning vessels to increase their level of alertness and monitor for any suspicious activity, Ambrey said.

The U.S. Navy's Mideast-based 5th Fleet declined to immediately comment on the incident.

Yanbu, 540 miles west of Riyadh, is the endpoint of the kingdom's crucial East-West Pipeline. It allows crude oil pumped in its eastern fields to be shipped directly by way of the Red Sea, avoiding the Persian Gulf's chokepoint at the Strait of Hormuz. Yanbu is also home to an oil refinery that can process 400,000 barrels of crude per day.

In May 2019, then-U.S. national security adviser John Bolton claimed that Yanbu had been targeted in an attack never acknowledged by the kingdom.

Meanwhile, American and Iranian warships had a tense encounter in the Persian Gulf earlier this month, the first such incident in about a year, the U.S. Navy said Tuesday.

Footage released by the Navy showed a ship commanded by Iran's paramilitary Revolutionary Guard cut in front of the Monomoy, causing the Coast Guard vessel to stop abruptly with its engine smoking on April 2.

The Iranian Guard also did the same with another Coast Guard vessel, the Wrangell, said Cmdr. Rebecca Rebarich, a 5th Fleet spokeswoman. Such close passes risk the ships colliding.

Iran did not immediately acknowledge the incident in the southern reaches of the Persian Gulf, which resulted in no injuries or damage.

"The U.S. crews issued multiple warnings via bridge-to-bridge radio, five short blasts from the ships' horns, and while the [Iranian] Harth 55 responded to the bridge-to-bridge radio queries, they continued the unsafe maneuvers," Rebarich said. "After approximately three hours of the U.S. issuing warning and conducting defensive maneuvers, the [Iranian] vessels maneuvered away from the U.S. ships and opened distance between them."

In an April 2, 2021, photo released by the U.S. Navy, an Iranian Revolutionary Guard vessel cuts in front of the U.S. Coast Guard ship USCGC Monomoy in the Persian Gulf. American and Iranian warships had a tense encounter in the Persian Gulf earlier this month, the first such incident in about a year amid wider turmoil in the region over Tehran's tattered nuclear deal, the U.S. Navy said Tuesday, April 27, 2021. (U.S. Navy via AP)
In an April 2, 2021, photo released by the U.S. Navy, an Iranian Revolutionary Guard vessel cuts in front of the U.S. Coast Guard ship USCGC Monomoy in the Persian Gulf. American and Iranian warships had a tense encounter in the Persian Gulf earlier this month, the first such incident in about a year amid wider turmoil in the region over Tehran's tattered nuclear deal, the U.S. Navy said Tuesday, April 27, 2021. (U.S. Navy via AP)
In an April 2, 2021, photo released by the U.S. Navy, an Iranian Revolutionary Guard vessel cuts in front of the U.S. Coast Guard ship USCGC Wrangell in the Persian Gulf. American and Iranian warships had a tense encounter in the Persian Gulf earlier this month, the first such incident in about a year amid wider turmoil in the region over Tehran's tattered nuclear deal, the U.S. Navy said Tuesday, April 27, 2021. (U.S. Navy via AP)
In an April 2, 2021, photo released by the U.S. Navy, an Iranian Revolutionary Guard vessel cuts in front of the U.S. Coast Guard ship USCGC Wrangell in the Persian Gulf. American and Iranian warships had a tense encounter in the Persian Gulf earlier this month, the first such incident in about a year amid wider turmoil in the region over Tehran's tattered nuclear deal, the U.S. Navy said Tuesday, April 27, 2021. (U.S. Navy via AP)
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