Half of Saudi Arabia’s oil production power is feared to have been wiped out after Iran-backed militants turned two of the world’s most valuable refineries into infernos with a devastating drone strike.
A eye-watering 5.7million barrels per day of crude production has reportedly been destroyed – more than 50 per cent of the kingdom’s 9.65million daily output which is relied upon around the globe.
Fires raged at the plant in Abqaiq, Bugayg, and the arab country’s second largest oilfield in Khurais this morning after mounting tensions between Riyadh and Tehran finally came to a head prompting Houthi rebels in Yemen to launch the flurry of rockets.
A military spokesperson for these Yemeni rebels, who are locked into a bloody civil war, claimed responsibility for the strike on Saudi Arabia’s state-owned oil giant Aramco.
The Houthi fighters have previously launched attacks over the border, hitting Shaybah oilfield with drones last month and two oil pumping stations in May. Both attacks caused fires but did not disrupt production.
Saudi Arabia’s energy minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman bin Abdulaziz confirmed that drone attacks on its oil facilities knocked out about 50 per cent of the country’s production. No injuries have been reported.
Abqaiq facility, located 37 miles southwest of Aramco’s Dhahran headquarters, is home to the company’s largest oil processing plant, according to its website (pictured: Smoke is seen following a fire at an Aramco factory in Abqaiq)
Smoke is seen following a fire at an Aramco factory in Abqaiq, Saudi Arabia, September 14
Smoke is seen following a fire at an Aramco factory in Abqaiq, Saudi Arabia, September 14
A satellite image provided by NASA Worldview shows fires following Yemen’s Houthi rebels claiming a drone attack on two major oil installations in eastern Saudi Arabia
Tensions are running high in the region after attacks in June and July on oil tankers in Gulf waters that Riyadh and Washington blamed on Iran
Yahia Sarie announced that the Houthi’s were taking responsibility for the attacks on Saturday in a televised address carried by the Houthi’s Al-Masirah satellite news channel.
He said the Houthis sent 10 drones to attack an oil processing facility in Buqyaq and the Khurais oil field, warning that attacks by the rebels against the kingdom would only get worse if the war in Yemen continues.
Sarie said: ‘The only option for the Saudi government is to stop attacking us.’
Iran denies supplying the Houthis with weapons, although the UN, the West and Gulf Arab nations say Tehran does. Drone models nearly identical to those used by Iran have been used in the conflict in Yemen.
The attacks highlight how the increasingly advanced weaponry of the Iran-linked Huthi rebels – from ballistic missiles to unmanned drones – poses a serious threat to oil installations in Saudi Arabia, the world’s top crude exporter.
The international energy watchdog said that the global oil markets are for now ‘well supplied with ample commercial stocks.’
The International Energy Agency said in a statement: ‘We are in contact with Saudi authorities as well as major producer and consumer nations.’
A military spokesman for Yemen’s Houthi rebels has claimed responsibility for today’s attacks on Abqaiq (pictured) and Khurais
The Abqaiq facility (pictured), which processes sour crude oil into sweet crude, then later transports onto transshipment points on the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea, has been targeted in the past by militants
President Donald Trump called Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the wake of the drone strikes and expressed the United States’ readiness to cooperate with the kingdom in supporting its security and stability.
Trump said recent attacks against Saudi state-run oil facilities have had a negative impact on the US and global economies.
Saudi Aramco operates the world’s largest oil processing facility and crude oil stabilisation plant in the world at Abqaiq, in eastern Saudi Arabia. The plant has a crude oil processing capacity of more than 7 million barrels per day.
Authorities have not reported on casualties. A witness nearby said at least 15 ambulances were seen in the area and there was a heavy security presence around Abqaiq.
The attack will likely heighten tensions further across the wider Persian Gulf amid a confrontation between the U.S. and Iran over its unraveling nuclear deal with world powers.
Saudi Aramco describes its Abqaiq oil processing facility in Buqyaq as ‘the largest crude oil stabilisation plant in the world.’
The facility, which processes sour crude oil into sweet crude, then later transports onto transshipment points on the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea, has been targeted in the past by militants.
The fires at Abqaiq, which contains the world’s largest oil processing plant, and Khurais, which contains the country’s second largest oilfield, have now been brought under control
Yemen’s Houthi rebels claimed responsibility for the attacks on Abqaiq and Khurais, two major Aramco facilities in eastern Saudi Arabia (pictured: Abqaiq)
Smoke billowing from an Aramco oil facility in Abqaiq about 37 miles southwest of Dhahran in Saudi Arabia’s eastern province
Al-Qaida-claimed suicide bombers tried but failed to attack the oil complex in February 2006.
A Saudi-led coalition has been battling Houthi rebels since March 2015. The Iranian-backed Houthis hold Yemen’s capital, Sana’a, and other territory in the Arab world’s poorest country.
The violence has pushed Yemen to the brink of famine and killed more than 90,000 people since 2015, according to the U.S.-based Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project, or ACLED, which tracks the conflict.
Since the start of the Saudi-led war, Houthi rebels have been using drones in combat. The first appeared to be off-the-shelf, hobby-kit-style drones.
Later, versions nearly identical to Iranian models turned up.
The rebels have flown drones into the radar arrays of Saudi Arabia’s Patriot missile batteries, according to Conflict Armament Research, disabling them and allowing the Houthis to fire ballistic missiles into the kingdom unchallenged.
The Houthis launched drone attacks targeting Saudi Arabia’s crucial East-West Pipeline in May as tensions heightened between Iran and the U.S.
Saudi Aramco describes its Abqaiq oil processing facility in Buqyaq as ‘the largest crude oil stabilization plant in the world’ (pictured: Abqaiq oil plant)
In August, Houthi drones struck Saudi Arabia’s Shaybah oil field, which produces some 1 million barrels of crude oil a day near its border with the United Arab Emirates.
U.N. investigators said the Houthis’ new UAV-X drone, found in recent months during the Saudi-led coalition’s war in Yemen, likely has a range of up to 930 miles.
That puts the far reaches of both Saudi Arabia and the UAE in range.
The incident represents the latest assault on the state-owned energy giant as it prepares for a much-anticipated stock listing.
The interior ministry said in a statement carried by the official Saudi Press Agency: ‘At 4.00am the industrial security teams of Aramco started dealing with fires at two of its facilities in Abqaiq and Khurais as a result of… drones.
‘The two fires have been controlled.’
The statement added that an investigation had been launched after the attack in the kingdom’s Eastern Province.
Last month, an attack claimed by Yemen’s Houthi rebels sparked a fire at Aramco’s Shaybah natural gas liquefaction facility – close to the Emirati border – but no casualties were reported by the company.
Since the start of the Saudi-led war, Houthi rebels have been using drones in combat (pictured: Yemen’s Houthi movement forces are seen during withdrawal from Saleef port in Hodeidah province, Yemen, May 11)
In recent months, the Houthi rebels have carried out a spate of cross-border missile and drone attacks targeting Saudi air bases and other facilities in what it says is retaliation for a Saudi-led air war on rebel-held areas of Yemen.
Abqaiq facility, located 37 miles southwest of Aramco’s Dhahran headquarters, is home to the company’s largest oil processing plant, according to its website.
In an attack claimed by Al-Qaeda in February 2006, suicide bombers with explosive-laden vehicles attempted to penetrate the Abqaiq oil-processing plant, killing two security guards.
The two bombers also died in the attack, which failed to breach the compound, authorities reported at the time.
In 2014, a Saudi court sentenced a man to death for links to the 2006 attack. Two other Saudis were jailed for 33 and 27 years respectively, state media reported.
Tensions in the Gulf have soared since May, with US President Donald Trump calling off air strikes against Iran at the last minute in June after it downed a US drone.
The United States and Saudi Arabia have also blamed Iran for multiple attacks on tankers in the Gulf.
The latest attacks come as Saudi Arabia, the world’s top crude exporter, accelerates preparations for a much-anticipated initial public offering of Aramco.
The mammoth IPO forms the cornerstone of a reform programme envisaged by the kingdom’s de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, a son of King Salman, to wean the Saudi economy off its reliance on oil.
Aramco is ready for a two-stage stock market debut including an international listing ‘very soon’, its CEO Amin Nasser told reporters on Tuesday.
TIMELINE: DRONES ARE SHOT DOWN AND OIL TANKERS SEIZED AS MIDDLE EAST TENSIONS RISE
The Strait of Hormuz has played host to a series of aggressive military manoeuvres
May 12: Four vessels – two Saudi, one Norwegian and one Emirati – were attacked in the Gulf of Oman as part of a ‘sophisticated and co-ordinated operation’.
It came as tensions were rising between the US and Iran – who were suspected to have carried out the attacks.
The USS Abraham Lincoln carrier strike group, consisting of the carrier and its carrier air wing, along with one cruiser and four destroyers, had been dispatched to the region earlier that month.
The Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln and the Wasp-class Amphibious Assault Ship USS Kearsarge sail in the Arabian Sea, May 17, 2019
June 13: Two oil tankers were attacked near the Strait of Hormuz, leaving one ablaze and adrift. President Trump blamed Iran for the incidents, which saw 44 sailors evacuated from both vessels. Iran denied involvement.
Japan’s Kokuka Courageous and Norway’s Front Altair were attacked.
Inferno: A fire rages on board the oil tanker MT Front Altair after it was hit by an explosion in the Gulf of Oman
June 20: A $100million (£78million) US military drone was shot down by Iran. President Hassan Rouhani said the drone had violated the country’s airspace.
President Trump cancelled retaliatory military strikes at the last minute after he was told as many as 150 people could die.
An image released by Iran claiming to show the US drone as it was shot down by the Revolutionary Guard
July 4: Britain seizes an Iranian oil tanker the Grace 1 near Gibraltar, accusing it of violating sanctions on Syria.
Royal Marines from 42 Commando boarded the ship by descending on ropes from a Wildcat helicopter and by using rigid inflatable boats, seizing the supertanker, which was suspected of carrying oil destined for Bashar Assad’s Syrian regime.
Iran’s revolutionary guard warned that a British oil tanker could be seized in response.
Royal Marines taking part in the seizure of an Iranian oil tanker, Grace 1 in the early hours of July 4, 2019 off the Gibraltar strait
July 10: HMS Montrose, a Royal Navy frigate, fended off three Iranian vessels that tried to stop British Heritage, a commercial tanker that is understood to have been passing through the Strait of Hormuz when it was approached by Iranian vessels.
HMS Montrose came between the vessels, and the Iranian ships turned back after warnings were given. No shots were fired.
HMS Montrose (pictured in 2005), a Royal Navy frigate, fended off three Iranian vessels that tried to stop British Heritage
July 11: Gibraltar police revealed they arrested the captain and chief officer of Grace 1 in relation to suspected violations of EU sanctions on Syria.
The captain, chief officer and two second officers were conditionally bailed without charge two days later.
July 12: HMS Duncan, a Type 45 destroyer, is sent to the Gulf to replace Montrose.
HMS Duncan (pictured) was sent to the Gulf to replace Montrose on July 12
July 17: US officials said cast blame on Iran for seizing a Panamanian-flagged oil tanker from the United Arab Emirates travelling through the Strait of Hormuz.
July 18: Iran confirms it seized the MT Riah, a UAE-based vessel, and claims it was ‘smuggling one million litres of fuel’. The ship had sent a distress call.
US President Donald Trump said the USS Boxer warship had downed an Iranian drone that ignored calls to stand down when it came within 1,000 yards of the vessel.
Iran denied losing one of its drones in the Strait of Hormuz.
US President Donald Trump said the USS Boxer warship (pictured)had downed an Iranian drone that ignored calls to stand down when it came within 1,000 yards of the vessel
July 19: Iran’s Revolutionary Guards seize British ship Stena Impero and divert her into Iranian waters.
HMS Montrose, which was patrolling the Persian Gulf, was forced to do a U-turn when it received orders to assist the UK-flagged Stena Impero, which had been seized by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard in the Strait of Hormuz.
The Stena Impero was still in Omani waters when the orders were sent, but by the time HMS Montrose arrived the vessel had been taken and redirected into Iranian territorial waters. It’s claimed the Iranians were ready to ‘engage’ the Type 23 frigate.
Iran’s Revolutionary Guards seize British ship Stena Impero and divert her into Iranian waters (pictured: An image released by Iran purporting to show Revolutionary Guard Corps boarding the British-flagged tanker Stena Impero)
Iran’s seizure of the British ships was a deliberate act of provocation because the ships were in international waters.
It’s thought Iranian authorities seized the British ships in retaliation for the detention of an Iranian vessel by the UK the previous week.
July 20: Propaganda video showing the moment Iranian Revolutionary Guard commandos drop from a helicopter to hijack the British-registered tanker is shared on Iranian state TV.
July 21: Iran hoists its flag over the Stena Impero a day after Britain reported Iran to the United Nations.
Armed guard: Two members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard inspect the captured British tanker Stena Impero in a picture taken in July
A speedboat of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard moving around the British-flagged oil tanker Stena Impero, July 21
July 28: British destroyer HMS Duncan arrives in the Gulf to replace HMS Montrose. The ship had spent the past 28 days on patrol.
July 29: Iran’s President Rouhani pens an open letter to Boris Johnson, saying he hopes the countries’ diplomatic ties will be stronger under his leadership.
August 4: An Iraqi tanker is intercepted by Iran near Farsi Island and escorted to the south west coastal city of Bushehr. It was accused of smuggling 700,000 litres of fuel.
August 11: Iran‘s Revolutionary Guard shared a video in which they claimed to be pursuing a Royal Navy destroyer, but experts reveal it was most likely a UAE vessel.
Iranian oil tanker Adrian Darya 1, previously named Grace 1, sits anchored after the Supreme Court of the British territory lifted its detention order, in the Strait of Gibraltar, Spain, August 18
August 12: Type-23 frigate HMS Kent leaves Portsmouth Naval Base to take over duties in the Strait of Hormuz from Type 45 defender HMS Duncan.
August 15: US tries to block the release of the Grace 1 but Gibraltar lets it go on written assurances from Tehran that it would not travel to Syria.
August 17: Iran changes the name of its tanker Grace 1 to Adrian Darya as it prepares to leave Gibraltar the next day.
A crew member raises the Iranian flag on Iranian oil tanker Adrian Darya 1, previously named Grace 1
August 24: Royal navy sends a third warship, HMS Defender, to the Gulf tohelp protect shipping in the region.
September 14: Drones attack two huge oil processing facilities at Abqaiq and Khurais, eastern Saudi Arabia. Yemen’s Iran-backed Houhthi rebels claimed responsibility for the attack.