EU calls for independent probe into oil tanker attack in Gulf of Oman

Robie de Guzman   •   June 18, 2019   •   1018

Fire burning on oil tanker at sea | Courtesy: Image grabbed from a Reuters video

The European Union (EU) Monday called for an independent investigation into two oil tanker attacks in the waters of the Gulf of Oman to avoid any military tension escalations.

It was reported that two oil tankers, identified as Marshall Islands-flagged Front Altair and the Panama-flagged Kokuka Courageous, had burst into flames after being attacked by underwater weapons in the Gulf of Oman near the Strait of Hormuz last Thursday.

The United States blamed Iran for the attacks but failed to submit any evidence while Iran said the U.S. accusations groundless.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres last Thursday condemned the attacks on two oil carriers, calling for the establishment of facts.

The foreign ministers and defense ministers of the EU member states said at the EU Foreign Affairs and Security meeting in Luxembourg Monday that they supported Guterres’ call for independent probe to find out who should take responsibilities for the incidents. They said before any conclusion is drawn, solid evidence should be presented.

High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini said all the members will focus their diplomatic work on trying to avoid any escalation of tensions.

“What I found among the ministers beyond the assessment and the intelligence sharing, is a very strong element of concern for the risk of miscalculation or unintentional escalations that could occur in a region that is already to the limits of the stress test, I would say, and a common approach that all the member states expressed that of trying to focus all our action, all our diplomatic work to try to avoid an escalation, and actually help de-escalating, because what we would not like to see is a military escalation in the region. We think that would be extremely dangerous, definitely not positive neither for anyone in the region nor for Europe, neither for the rest of the world,” she said.

Tensions in the Gulf have been close to boiling point for weeks as the U.S. puts pressure on Iran in an attempt to force Tehran to reopen talks about the 2015 nuclear deal, which the U.S. pulled out of last year.

In May, four tankers were attacked off the coast of the United Arab Emirates.

The U.S. blamed those attacks on Iran — an accusation Tehran has denied. (REUTERS)

Malaysia carries out cloud seeding to tame haze in administrative capital Putrajaya

Robie de Guzman   •   September 17, 2019

Malaysia carried out cloud seeding on Monday (September 16) to tame haze and control air pollution in its administrative capital Putrajaya.

Parts of Malaysia, including Putrajaya, have been reeling under an impact of heavy haze with air quality dropping to a “very unhealthy” 203 benchmark, on the Air Pollutant Index the country uses to calculate, as forest fires in neighbouring Indonesia continue to affect the air.

Malaysia carried out cloud seeding in the hope of inducing rain and also closed hundreds of schools and sent half a million face masks to Sarawak, on Borneo island, this week, as fires in Indonesia’s Sumatra and Kalimantan provinces continued to burn.

Indonesia’s neighbours have regularly complained about smog caused by its forest blazes – often started by farmers trying to clear land for palm oil and pulp plantations – though Jakarta has denied the accusation, saying forest fires had also started in other countries across the region. (Reuters)

(Production: Ebrahim Harris, Sunil Kataria)

Oil falls more than 1% as market awaits response to Saudi oil attacks

Robie de Guzman   •   September 17, 2019

Oil shed some of its massive gains on Tuesday (September 17) as the United States flagged the possible release of crude reserves, but the threat of military action over the attacks on Saudi oil facilities kept prices elevated and stocks under pressure.

While equity market losses have not been large, shaky investor confidence continued to support safe-haven assets, with gold edging higher on Tuesday and Treasury prices rising.

Investors otherwise broadly remained on the sidelines ahead of an expected interest rate cut from the U.S. Federal Reserve on Wednesday (September 18) and the next round of U.S.-China trade talks on Thursday.

The benchmark Nikkei average added 0.2% to 22,021.86 in mid-morning trade to mark its highest level since May 7, as soaring oil prices triggered by attacks on Saudi oil facilities boosted oil and gas-related companies.

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan was down 0.6%. Chinese shares fell 0.85%, while Australian shares were down 0.27%.

Brent crude, the international benchmark, fell 1.78% to $67.79 per barrel in Asia on Tuesday. On Monday Brent surged by 14.6% for its biggest one-day percentage gain since at least 1988.

Saturday’s attack on Saudi oil facilities has halved the kingdom’s oil output, creating the biggest disruption to global oil supplies in absolute terms since the overthrow of the Iranian Shah in 1979, International Energy Agency data show.

In South Korea, stocks opened slightly lower with the Korea Composite Stock Price Index (KOSPI) down 3.14 points or 0.15 percent to 2,059.08 points as of 0200 GMT.

China stocks fell on Tuesday as Beijing kept a key money rate unchanged even as recent readings pointed to further downward pressure on the world’s second-largest economy.

In Hong Kong, stocks extended falls after credit rating agency Moody’s downgraded the island city’s outlook.

The Hang Seng index dropped 1.0%, to 26,849.72, while the Hong Kong China Enterprises Index lost 1.0%, to 10,520.42. (Reuters)

(Production: Yasuteru Ueda, Dogyun Kim, Jiang Xihao, Zaw Naing Oo, Kwiyeon Ha, Hyunyoung Yi)

Trump says Saudi oil attacks won’t affect the United States

Robie de Guzman   •   September 17, 2019

U.S. President Donald Trump

U.S. President Donald Trump on Monday (September 16) said it looked like Iran was behind attacks on oil plants in Saudi Arabia at the weekend that raised fears of a fresh Middle East conflict, but added that he did not want war with anyone.

Asked by a reporter if he can trust Saudi Arabia, Trump said: “Oh I think so, they want to find out also, and I think they probably feel they know but we are going to know very quickly. We have pretty much all the material we need, we’ll know very quickly.”

Iran has rejected U.S. charges it was to blame for the attacks which damaged the world’s biggest crude processing plant in Saudi Arabia and triggered the largest jump in crude prices in decades.

Several U.S. Cabinet officials, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and U.S. Secretary of Energy Rick Perry, have blamed Tehran for the strikes. Trump told reporters that he agrees with Pompeo on Iran responsibility for Saudi attacks.

The attacks cut 5% of world crude oil production and sent oil prices soaring. Trump said that the oil attack won’t affect the United States. (Reuters)

(Production: Temis Tormo)

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