Saudi Arabia Halts Oil Shipments as Yemeni Rebels Attack Tankers

Iran-backed Houthis hit Saudi oil tanker off Yemen coast

WTI is now trading back over 70.0 per barrel, and leaning into the bullish side heading into the latter half of the week; oil prices are receiving a boost after Saudi Arabia announced that it was halting oil shipments through the Bab al-Mandeb shipping lane in the Red Sea.

"All oil shipments through Bab al-Mandab Strait have been suspended temporarily until... maritime transit through the area is safe", Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih said in a statement released by state media.

The strait lies between Yemen and East Africa and an important shipping route for oil from the Arabian Peninsula to Europe, via the Suez Canal.

Saudi Arabia accuses regional arch-foe Iran of supplying missiles to the Houthis, something Tehran and the Houthis deny.

Earlier in the day, Houthi rebels claimed responsibility for an attack on an unnamed Saudi tanker off the contested port of Hodeidah, Yemen.

The Saudis can use a massive oil pipeline to pump 5 million barrels of oil per day across Saudi Arabia to a port far north of the Bab el-Mandeb, enabling them to continue shipping oil through the Red Sea and into the Mediterranean Sea. An estimated 4.8 million barrels per day of crude oil and refined petroleum products flowed through the waterway in 2016, the EIA said.

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Brent crude oil futures rose 0.6% to $US74.35 per barrel on Thursday at 6 48 GMT and United States oil reserves fell to a three and a half year low, Reuters reported. One of the ships suffered minor damage in the assault.

Oil prices rebounded somewhat on Friday after two Saudi vessels belonging to the Saudi National Shipping Co., each with a capacity of 2 million barrels of oil, were attacked by Yemeni Houthi militia.

Traders said the suspension order was only for Saudi-owned vessels, so state-owned Saudi Aramco could still charter foreign ships to move its crude. It has said it foiled previous attacks there in April and May.

Yemen´s government, in a statement Thursday carried by the state-run Saba news agency, condemned the attack on shipping and urged the global community to "immediately stand with and support" the coalition in its fight against the Huthis.

Saudi Arabia and its allies launched the war in March 2015 in support of Yemen's former Riyadh-friendly government and against the Houthi Ansarullah movement.

In a separate statement carried on the Houthi-run SABA news agency, the group said it had also targeted a coalition boat off the coast of al-Durayhmi in southern Hodeidah on the west coast.

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It looks likely Iran ordered Houthis to launch attacks on oil shipment routes, with the goal of creating oil supply instability that will reverberate around the world, and drive prices to the roof.

The United Nations says the Houthis have offered to hand over management of the port to the world body, but the Saudi-led coalition says that the Houthis must quit the western coast.

The UN World Food Programme said four in every 10 children under five were now acutely malnourished, and put the number of people displaced since the Hodeidah offensive began at 200,000.

Russian energy minister Alexander Novak said on Friday the market remained volatile and responded to verbal interventions, adding that the market had priced in risks related to USA sanctions against Iran.

"The halt potentially offers Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates an opportunity to focus worldwide attention on resolving a civil war aggravated and turned into a regional conflict by the two Gulf states' military intervention", Dorsey said.

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