Did a United Arab Emirates ship fire on a Saudi patrol boat in the Persian Gulf? How volatile is the world's most important oil waterway?
Last week a brief naval encounter between vessels from the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia have raised concerns over security and calm in the shipping lane through which 40 percent of all the world's sea-traded oil moves. The UAE won, if you're scoring at home. That is, if the incident happened in the first place.
The Telegraph reported on the story but without official corroboration from any named sources, and follow-up reporting from the Wall Street Journal was unable to uncover any further details. So, allegedly, a UAE ship fired on a smaller Saudi patrol vessel over disputed water boundaries, which apparently isn't so outrageous for the Gulf region. Oil pipelines and deposits on the seabed, along with the ever-increasing threat from Iran to the North, has kept tensions high, and this latest incident certainly can't help. If it happened, that is.
Among those declining to comment on the skirmish are UAE government officials in Abu Dhabi, a spokesperson for the company operating the $3.5 billion gas pipeline that runs through the gulf, and a Saudi embassy official in Abu Dhabi. Someone with the US Navy stationed in nearby Bahrain apparently was unaware of the incident. I'm guessing no one bothered to ask Iran their opinion.
The international black sheep of the region, Iran has said it would mine the straits leading out of the Gulf if provoked, or if their nuclear installations are attacked. For much of the world, this would not be a good thing (well, if you like oil). More than 16 million barrels of oil go through those straits every day, representing 20 percent of all the oil moving around the world. The U.S. Energy Information Administration calls it the "world's most important oil chokepoint." Cut off the multitude of supertankers passing through there each day, and suddenly—just for example—Japan loses 75 percent of its oil supply.
Who knows what actually happened between the UAE and Saudi Arabia, but one has to think that there is simply too much money to be made for those countries not to stand down on this. Oil has dictated the geopolitics of the Gulf region for a long time, and until that oil runs out (peak oil, anyone?) it will keep the naval battles to a minimum and the resultant cover-ups/no-comment fests at full throttle.