In the waters off a busy port along Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea coast, a tussle between two of the Middle East’s big beasts is quietly playing out, with an Iranian oil tanker called Happiness I at the centre of it.
On April 30, the tanker was sailing through the Red Sea carrying an estimated 1 million barrels of fuel oil. It was on its way to the Suez Canal when it got into difficulties some 70 nautical miles southwest of Jeddah Islamic Port, with water leaking into its engine room leading to a loss of control.
A couple of days later, on May 2, the ship and its 26-strong crew were rescued by the Saudi coast guard – following an official request for help made via Iran’s delegation to the United Nations in New York – and brought into the Jeddah port’s anchorage for repair.
“All necessary precautions were taken to ensure the safety of the ship’s crew and provide necessary support and assistance,” said a spokesman for Saudi Arabia’s General Directorate of the Border Guard at the time, adding that its assistance stemmed “from the humanitarian role of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, as usual in such cases.”
It appeared to be a welcome sign of détente and cooperation among the two fierce regional rivals. However, since then problems have emerged.