'Explosion' reported on Iranian oil tanker off Saudi coast

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Four ships, including the Saudi vessel Amjad (pictured above), were sabotaged earlier this year

An explosion has caused a fire on an Iranian tanker near the coast of Saudi Arabia, Iranian media say.

The vessel, from Iran’s national oil company (NOIC), was 60 miles (97km) from the Saudi port city of Jeddah.

The ship’s two main storage tanks are said to have been damaged, causing an oil spill in the Red Sea, but no-one was injured and the spill is said to have been contained.

NOIC said the vessel had been hit by missiles, but did not provide evidence.

Iran’s national tanker company (NITC) says the fire had been put out and the oil spillage reduced to a minimum, according to the news site Iran Front Page.

Iranian state TV identified the ship as the oil tanker Sinopa. The maritime vessel tracking firm Tanker Trackers said the tanker was regularly used to ferry oil to the Syrian government, despite international sanctions.

A source at maritime analytics firm Windward told the BBC it was common for NITC ships to turn off their automatic identification system (AIS) trackers to avoid detection – often to evade international sanctions or harassment from Saudi Arabia.

Because of regulations, such vessels must turn their AIS back on close the Suez Canal. The Windward source said Sinopa was behaving unusually because it switched its AIS back on three days ago, hundreds of miles from the Suez, after being “dark” for more than 50 days. It last transmitted while in the Persian Gulf.

The incident came amid heightened tension between Iran and Saudi Arabia.

Last month, 18 drones and seven cruise missiles hit a major oil field and processing facility in Saudi Arabia, which blamed Iran for the attack.

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Media captionHow sanctions affect Iran… in five objects

And US officials said Iran was responsible for attacks on two oil tankers in the Gulf in June and July, as well as attacks on another four tankers in May.

Iran denied involvement in all the incidents.