An explosion was reported in a Saudi Arabian oil tanker off the coast of Jeddah, reports said on Monday. The oil tanker was hit by "an external source", official said, raising fears of a fresh attack on Saudi Arabian assets by the Yemeni rebel forces against which the Kingdom is fighting alongside the United Arab Emirates.

Malaysian oil tanker carrying arrying 900,000 litres of diesel 'hijacked off Malaysia'
Representational image Reuters (Representational Image)

The tanker belonged to shipping company Hafnia. Its officials said all 22 sailors on board the Singapore-flagged ship BW Rhine escaped without injury after the attack. However, there were fears of oil leakage at the site of the blast.

The crew extinguished the fire but ship's hull was damaged. "BW Rhine has been hit from an external source whilst discharging at Jeddah, Saudi Arabia at approximately 00:40 local time on 14 December 2020 [21:40 GMT on Sunday], causing an explosion and subsequent fire onboard," Hafnia said in a statement.

The vessel had loaded about 60,000 tonnes of gasoline, shipping data on Refinitiv showed. The tanker, which loaded up at Yanbu port earlier this month was 84-percent full.

Last month, a mine attack blamed on Yemen's Houthi rebels had damaged an oil tanker off Red Sea port city.

The US Navy's 5th fleet, which was in the Middle East waters, did not respond to the news of the attack, the Guardian reported.

Other reports from the region said the Yemeni rebel forces have been mooting retaliatory strikes against Saudi Arabia over Riyadh's military campaign against them. A Jeddah distribution station owned by Saudi Arabian oil company Aramco was targeted by the Quds-2 winged missiles from the Yemeni rebels.

Houthi military spokesman Gen. Yehia Sarie said the Quds 2 cruise missiles were fired at Aramco's North Jiddah Bulk Plant, where oil products are stored.

Previous Attack on Saudi, UAE Tankers

In June 2019, Middle East tensions had flared up after two tankers were attacked in the Gulf of Oman. Saudi Arabia had squarely blamed rival Iran for the attacks. The incident had come a month after four other tankers were attacked off the coast of the United Arab Emirates.

Footage released by the US showed what appeared to be Iranian militia approaching in a boat and removing an unexploded mine off the hull of one of the ships that were attacked. However, Iran had denied any involvement.

Qasem Soleimani
Qasem Soleimani, Quds Force commander Wikimedia Commons

In May 2019, Yemen's Houthi rebels launched drone attacks on Saudi Arabia, hitting a major oil pipeline. This was followed by the attack on four commercial ships off the coast of Fujairah.

In June that year, even as Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was visiting Middle East, Japanese and Norwegian tankers were attacked in the Gulf of Oman.

Killing of Qassem Soleimani

Continued tensions in the region, fomented by incidents like the shooting down of a US drone and the seizing of a British tanker in the Strait of Hormuz, culminated in the killing of Iranian Revolutionary Guards commander Qassem Soleimani in January 2020.