ON 7 JULY there was an explosion on the container ship Ocean Trader at terminal one of Dubai’s Jebel Ali Port. There have been no indications so far of hostile action causing the explosion and IHS Markit assesses this to be unlikely.

The information and advisory firm says the targeting of a small commercial vessel and timing of the attack at night would be inconsistent with a politically motivated attack intended to embarrass the Emirati government.

IHS Markits’head of Middle East and North Africa country risk, Jack A Kennedy, said, “The size and apparent location of the explosion would be inconsistent with the use of limpet mines along the waterline of the vessel, as would the use of loitering unmanned aerial vehicles with an explosive warhead, as have been used in previous sabotage attacks”.

Iran-backed militias in Iraq have previously threatened to target assets in the UAE, including Dubai’s Burj Khalifa, and the Ansar Allah (Houthi movement) militant group were most likely responsible for a weaponised unmanned aerial vehicle attack on Abu Dhabi international Airport in 2018 that was reported as an accident by Emirati media.

Dubai Port authorities currently claim that the explosion on the Ocean Trader was the result of an accident. Dubai Police initially stated that the vessel was carrying at least three containers of flammable materials that may have ignited while the ship was attempting to dock.


The Ocean Trader belongs to a fleet of three aging vessels, including the landing craft Project Trader and general cargo vessel Sea Trader. All three vessels are Comoros flagged, a flag of convenience that is not a signatory to the Maritime Labour Convention.

“This would allow an unscrupulous operator to run vessels below the safety standards that would be reasonably expected, increasing the likelihood of accidents,” Mr Kennedy said.

“The high summer daytime temperatures of Dubai would also increase the combustibility of flammable materials, if stored or handled incorrectly.”

The incident occurred after months of accusations and attacks on vessels by arch enemies Iran and Israel, including an attack on Liberian-flagged cargo ship CSAV Tyndall earlier this month as it travelled from Saudi Arabia to the United Arab Emirates.

Israeli-owned vessels were also attacked in the Gulf of Oman in February and April, with Israel blaming Iran for the explosions.