A suspected drone attack on a cargo ship linked to an Israeli tycoon killed two crew members, including a British national, off the coast of Oman in the Arabian Sea.
The attack hit the Liberian pavilion on Mercer Street on Thursday evening. Although owned by the Japanese, it was run by an Israeli company, Zodiac Maritime, which is part of billionaire Eyal Ofer’s Zodiac group, which admitted to the deaths and initially called the incident piracy. The other victim was a Romanian national, the cabinet said.
The piracy allegation was later denied by regional officials, who said the strike appeared to fit a pattern of previous attacks on shipping traffic linked to Iran and Israel, carried out as part of a war. ghost between the two enemies.
The high seas showdown has seen around 150 strikes or more over the past three years on Gulf waters, the Red Sea and the eastern Mediterranean coast.
Drones have been used more and more by both sides throughout this year. Previously, mines placed on ship hulls and sometimes small rockets would have been deployed.
While navigation disruptions have been common, fatalities have been rare. A drone strike reportedly carried out on an Iranian tanker off the Syrian coast in the spring killed three people when a missile burst through the ship’s deck. In June, Iran’s largest navy ship sank near Oman after its engine room mysteriously caught fire.
Mayday calls were detected in neighboring Oman and Saudi Arabia on Thursday evening. The US Navy reportedly escorted Mercer Street to the Omani island of Masirah.
The British Army’s maritime trade operations in the UK said an investigation was underway into the attack and that coalition forces were participating.
A US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told The Associated Press that the attack appeared to have been carried out by a “one-way” drone and that other drones were involved. The official said it was not immediately clear who launched the attack.
A British government spokesperson said: “Our hearts go out to the relatives of a British national who died following an incident at an oil tanker off the coast of Oman.
“Ships must be allowed to navigate freely in accordance with international law. We are working with our international partners to urgently establish the facts.
The Defense Ministry said: “We are aware of reports of an attack on a merchant vessel off the coast of Oman. British military headquarters in the region are currently investigating. “
Britain’s maritime security company Ambrey said the attack killed one of its crew, as well as a member of the tanker’s crew.
“It is with deep regret that I can confirm that a member of the Ambrey team was tragically killed in a security incident,” the company said on Friday.
“The incident took place in the northern Indian Ocean aboard the tanker M / T Mercer Street. We can confirm that a crew member was also killed.
“We are currently working in close collaboration with our client and the competent authorities, while offering all possible support to the relatives of the victim. Our hearts go out to the family and friends of those involved in this incredibly sad time. “
Iran and the Tehran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen have increasingly deployed drone swarm technology against regional enemies.
In May 2019, half of Saudi Arabia’s oil production capacity was taken offline for several weeks when several drones targeted the country’s main production facility.
Washington and Riyadh believe the attack was launched on the Iranian side of the border with Iraq, near Gulf waters.
The incident came as talks between Tehran and Washington to reactivate the nuclear deal continued to stagnate. Hours before the strike, the United States had declared its frustration at the slowness of negotiations in Vienna, which would lift the sanctions reimposed by Donald Trump after the lifting of his predecessor Barack Obama during his second term as President of the States. United.
Mercer Street was in the northern Indian Ocean, traveling from Dar es Salaam to Fujairah without any cargo on board. It is the second vessel linked to the Israeli tycoon to be targeted this month. The first, a container ship CSAV Tyndall suffered damage from an unexplained explosion in the Indian Ocean.
“With deep sadness we understand that the incident aboard the M / T Mercer Street on July 29, 2021 resulted in the deaths of two crew members on board: a Romanian national and a British national,” wrote Zodiac Maritime on Twitter. “We are not aware of any harm caused to other staff. “
The deaths are expected to trigger a larger response in the coming days than dozens of previous strikes which have caused only property damage.
The shadow conflict between Iran and Israel has unfolded on regional waterways and from the skies over Syria and Iraq, where Israeli jets have regularly bombed targets that Israel believes are related to Iran.
Whether on land or water, neither side generally claims responsibility for the strikes they launch, preferring a series of low-key tit-for-tat responses and an absence of rhetoric that could lead to escalation.