The assault represented the worst-known maritime violence so far in regional attacks on shipping since 2019. The U.S., Israel and others have blamed the attacks on Iran amid the unraveling of Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers. Iran now appears poised to take an even tougher approach with the West as the country prepares to inaugurate a hard-line protégé of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as president next week. The attack on Thursday night targeted the tanker just northeast of the Omani island of Masirah, over 300 kilometers (185 miles) southeast of Oman’s capital, Muscat.
No one immediately claimed responsibility for the Thursday night raid on the Liberian-flagged tanker Mercer Street. However, a U.S. official said it appears a so-called suicide drone was used in the attack, raising the possibility that a government or a militia group was behind it. Without providing evidence, Israeli officials alleged that Iran carried out the attack. The U.S. Navy rushed to the scene following the attack and was escorting the tanker to a safe harbor, a London-based ship management company said Friday. London-based Zodiac Maritime, part of Israeli billionaire Eyal Ofer’s Zodiac Group, said the attack killed two crew members, one from the United Kingdom and the other from Romania. It did not name them, nor did it describe what happened in the assault. It said it believed no other crew members on board were harmed.
The U.K. government later confirmed that a British national “has died following an incident on a tanker off the coast of Oman.” The statement from Zodiac Maritime said that “at the time of the incident the vessel was in the northern Indian Ocean, traveling from Dar es Salaam to Fujairah with no cargo onboard,” naming ports in Tanzania and the United Arab Emirates.
Satellite tracking data from MarineTraffic.com showed the vessel had been near where British officials said the attack occurred. However, the last signal the ship sent came early Friday morning. Zodiac Maritime described the Mercer Street’s owners as Japanese, without naming them. Shipping authority Lloyd’s List identified the vessel’s ultimate owner as Taihei Kaiun Co., which belongs to the Tokyo-based Nippon Yusen Group. Late Friday, Zodiac Maritime said the tanker was sailing under the control of her crew “to a safe location with a U.S. naval escort.” The company did not elaborate. The U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet, which patrols the Mideast, did not respond to a request for comment.
British military’s United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations said an investigation was underway into the attack and that coalition forces were taking part. A U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the ongoing investigation, told The Associated Press that the attack appeared to have been carried out by a “one-way” drone and that other drones took part. The official said it wasn’t immediately known who launched the attack and declined to elaborate. Israeli officials, who similarly spoke on condition of anonymity as they weren’t authorized to talkj to the media, blamed Tehran for the attack, adding that Israel’s “campaign against (Iran) will continue.”
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