The U.S. Navy said that drones attacked an oil tanker near Oman, killing two people. Israel and Britain blamed Iran
Britain claimed that Iran carried out a drone attack that killed two crew members on an oil tanker off the coast of Oman in the Arabian Sea.
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said in a statement on Sunday night: “We believe that the attack was deliberate and targeted by Iran, which clearly violated international law.”
Raab said that one or more drones were used in the attack on the tanker Mercer Street on Thursday night.
Although no one claimed responsibility for the attack, the Israeli Prime Minister directly accused Iran on Sunday and secretly threatened to retaliate when Tehran denied involvement.
British, Romanian citizens killed
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett stated that the Iranians “intended to harm Israeli targets” but “caused the death of a British citizen and a Romanian citizen.”
Saeed Khatibzadeh, a spokesman for the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, called the accusation “baseless.”
The U.S. military said on Saturday that U.S. Navy explosion experts believed that the “drone attack” was directed at the tanker.
This attack marks the first known deadly attack after years of attacks on commercial shipping in the region, and is related to tensions over Iran’s nuclear agreement.
The US Navy’s Fifth Fleet in the Middle East said in a statement earlier on Saturday that the US nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan and the guided missile destroyer USS Mitchell are escorting Mercer Street to a safe port.
“U.S. Navy explosives experts are on board to ensure that the crew is not in additional danger and are prepared to support the investigation of the attack,” the 5th Fleet said. “The first signs clearly indicate a (drone) attack.”
The 5th Fleet’s statement did not explain how it determined that the drone caused the damage, although it described that its explosion experts found “clear visual evidence of an attack” on Mercer Street. The US Military Central Command did not immediately respond to questions about evidence.
Damaged tanker bridge
An American official said that the drone attack blasted a hole in the top of the tanker bridge, where the captain and crew commanded the ship. As the investigation into the attack is still ongoing, the official requested anonymity.
Mercer Street is managed by London-based Zodiac Maritime, which is part of the Zodiac Group of Israeli billionaire Eyal Ofer. The company said that one of the crew members was from the United Kingdom and the other was from Romania. It does not name them or describe what happened.
British maritime security company Ambrey said that the attack on Mercer Street resulted in the death of a team member on board.
Zodiac Maritime said that at the time of the attack, the empty Mercer Street was heading from Dar es Salaam in Tanzania to Fujairah in the United Arab Emirates. The target of the attack was an oil tanker located in the northeastern part of Oman’s Masira Island, more than 300 kilometers southeast of Oman’s capital Muscat. Oman’s official news agency described the area as “beyond the waters of the Oman region” on Friday night and stated that its troops responded to the tanker’s distress signal.
Zodiac Maritime described the owner of Mercer Street as a Japanese, but did not disclose his name. The shipping authority Lloyd’s Register of Shipping identified the ultimate owner of the ship as Taihei Kaiun Co., which is part of the Tokyo-based Nippon Yusen Group.
U.S. Oath Investigation
Israeli Foreign Minister Yael Rapid said on Twitter on Friday night that he had a conversation with British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab about the attack “needs a severe response”, although he did not Directly blame Iran.
“Iran is not just an Israeli issue, it is also an exporter of terrorism, destruction and instability affecting the entire world,” Rapide wrote. “In the face of Iranian terrorism, we must not remain silent, which also undermines the freedom of navigation.”
Rapide spoke with U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Brinken on Saturday. The US State Department stated that the two diplomats “agreed to work with the UK, Romania and other international partners to investigate the facts, provide support and consider appropriate next steps.”
Other Israeli-related ships become targets
In recent months, in the shadow war between the two countries, other Israeli-related ships have also been targeted, and Israeli officials blamed the attacks on the Islamic Republic.
At the same time, Israel is suspected of participating in a series of major attacks on Iran’s nuclear program. In addition, Iran recently saw its largest warship mysteriously sink in the nearby Gulf of Oman.
The attack on Thursday came as tensions in the Iranian nuclear agreement increased, and negotiations to reinstate the agreement stalled in Vienna. One year after then-U.S. President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew the United States from the agreement in 2018, Iran launched a series of ship attacks suspected to be Iranian.
After Brinken’s speech in Kuwait warned Iran that negotiations on a nuclear agreement in Vienna “cannot go on indefinitely”, Mercer Street was also attacked.
This is the second time this month that the ship connected to Ofer has clearly become a target. According to the US Maritime Administration, in early July, the container ship CSAV Tyndall, flying the Liberian flag, was linked to Zodiac Maritime and caused an unexplained explosion in the northern Indian Ocean.