Explosive-laden 'drone' boat targets Saudi port of Yanbu

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Graphic locates the city of Yanbu, Saudi Arabia

DUBAI – A remotely piloted boat packed with explosives targeted the Saudi port of Yanbu in the Red Sea on Tuesday, the kingdom said, with the blast sending black smoke into the sky off the coast.

Saudi Arabia claimed to have intercepted and destroyed the attack boat. However, private security firms suggested commercial traffic near the port may have been hit in the assault.

Details remained scarce, but the incident comes after a series of attacks on shipping in the wider Mideast region amid a shadow war between Iran and Israel and against the backdrop of ongoing negotiations between Tehran and world powers over Iran's tattered nuclear deal.

The incident also comes amid the kingdom's yearslong war against Yemen’s Houthi rebels. The Houthis have in the past used bomb-laden drones and explosive-packed boats in attacks targeting the kingdom. However, the rebels did not immediately claim any assaults on Tuesday and did not respond to a request for comment.

The state-run Saudi Press Agency quoted Saudi military spokesman Col. Turki al-Maliki saying the port was targeted by the drone boat.

“The booby-trapped boat was dealt and destroyed according to the rules of engagement,” the report quoted al-Maliki as saying, without providing evidence to support his claim.

The United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations, run by the British navy, simply said it was “aware of reports of an incident” and that investigations were ongoing. Private maritime security firm Dryad Global said it had reports that a ship had been “attacked," without elaborating.

Maritime security firm Neptune P2P Group reported that black smoke was seen billowing near the south entrance of the Yanbu port.