Suspension of Bab al-Mandeb Oil Shipments May Be a Good Thing

Suspension of Bab al-Mandeb Oil Shipments May Be a Good Thing

Friday, 27 July, 2018 - 05:45
Salman Al-dossary
Salman Aldosary is the former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper
The development that no one wanted has finally transpired with Saudi Arabia suspending its oil shipments in the Bab al-Mandeb Strait in wake of two of its giant tankers, which were carrying 4 million barrels of oil, coming under attack by the Houthi militia on Wednesday night. Reuters meanwhile, reported a Kuwaiti official as saying that his country may follow in Riyadh’s footsteps and also stop shipments in the 18-mile wide strait, one of the world’s busiest.

The Houthis’ ongoing terrorist attacks against ships in the area may lead to the strait’s complete closure, meaning petroleum tankers from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates and Iraq may be forced to change their routes and sail from the southern-most tip of Africa. This will consequently lead to longer transportation times and greater costs. More serious though, is that the world will then be unable to confront the repercussions of this closure.

According to the US Energy Information Administration, some 4.8 million barrels of crude oil and oil derivatives pass through Bab al-Mandeb every day. Experts predict that oil prices will be affected by the increase in marine transportation costs and the use of strategic reserves, which will cost between 1 and 3 dollars per barrel.

Most importantly, the suspension of global oil supplies is very dangerous for the world economy. Saudi Arabia had previously warned of this and said that successive attacks on tankers pose a dangerous threat on the freedom of navigation and global trade in the Mandeb Strait and Red Sea. Additionally, the ongoing use of Yemen’s Hodeidah port as a launchpad for terrorist attacks and rocket and arms smuggling remains the greatest problem in securing supply routes in the strait.

Securing freedom of navigation in Bab al-Mandeb and finding a secure route for transporting crude oil, which is important for oil derivatives to reach Europe and the global markets, is the responsibility of all countries that benefit from navigation in the strait. This responsibility is not limited to Saudi Arabia and members of the Arab coalition alone. If the world were concerned about the possibility of Iran obstructing oil shipments through the Arab Gulf and Hormuz Strait, then it should realize that Tehran has been doing so for three years in Bab al-Mandeb. This is evidence that the danger of Iran’s backing of the Houthi militia is affecting the entire world, not just the countries of the region that are playing their part in confronting Tehran’s destabilizing actions.

The Houthis, together with the Iranians, have for the past three years been violating international law, and yet, no one in the international community - while not disregarding the major role played by the American administration of President Donald Trump - dealt with them seriously. It is impossible not to distinguish between a tanker, carrying two million barrels of oil, and a warship. This was confirmed by Qassem Soleimani, commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ Quds Force, on Thursday when he said that the “Red Sea was no longer safe.”

This is where Saudi Arabia’s decision to suspend oil shipments through Bab al-Mandeb could be a good thing. It could serve as a warning to the international community of the Houthi-Iranian alliance that is harming the world economy. Perhaps the suspension may pave the way for reaching a decisive decision to form an international coalition to stop this threat on international navigation.

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