Satellite Photos Show Yemen Rebels Hit Saudi Oil Site Again

By The Associated Press
The Associated Press
The Associated Press
March 23, 2022 Updated: March 23, 2022

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates—Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebels this week struck the same oil storage tank in the Saudi Arabian city of Jiddah they had previously hit a year and a half ago, satellite photos showed Tuesday.

Satellite photos by Planet Labs PBC, analyzed by The Associated Press, show the damage on Sunday to the North Jiddah Bulk Plant, which sits just southeast of the city’s international airport.

That same storage tank—owned by the state oil behemoth Saudi Arabian Oil Co., known as Saudi Aramco—was hit by what the Houthis described as a cruise missile in a November 2020 attack.

Sunday’s attack comes as Saudi Arabia issued an unusually stark warning that it is unable to guarantee its oil production won’t be affected by further attacks—which could push global energy prices even higher amid Russia’s war on Ukraine.

Both Saudi government officials and Aramco did not respond to questions Tuesday.

Among the targets was a petrochemicals complex in Yanbu on the Red Sea coast, which Saudi officials said led to a disruption of production for the world’s biggest oil exporter.

Another target was the North Jiddah Bulk Plant, which stores diesel, gasoline, and jet fuel for use in Jiddah, the kingdom’s second-largest city some 285 kilometers (177 miles) southeast of Yanbu on the coast. It accounts for over a quarter of all of Saudi Arabia’s supplies and also supplies fuel crucial to running a regional desalination plant.

Saudi authorities earlier described the attack as causing a “limited fire in one of the tanks, (which was) brought under control without causing casualties.” The Houthis said they used Quds-2 land-attack cruise missile in the assault.

Planet Labs PBC photos, taken Monday, showed what likely was white, fire-suppressing material surrounding the tank, which appeared damaged on its southern-facing side. A new, detailed photo taken Tuesday showed that debris and material partially cleared away, with a hole clearly punched through the scorched tank.

At the time of the 2020 attack, the tank, which has a capacity of 500,000 barrels, held diesel fuel, according to a recent report by a U.N. panel of experts examining Yemen’s war. Repairing it after the last attack cost Aramco some $1.5 million.

The U.N. experts described the facility as a “civilian target.”

“While the facility also supplies the Saudi military with petroleum products, it is mostly supplying civilian customers,” the panel said. “If the plant had been out of service of a significant period, the impact on the kingdom’s economy as well as on the welfare of the residents of the Western region would likely have been significant.”

Cruise missiles and drones remain difficult to defend against, though the United States recently sent a significant number of Patriot anti-missile interceptors to Saudi Arabia to resupply the kingdom amid the Houthi attacks.