US Navy explosive experts believe a “drone strike” targeted an oil tanker that came under attack off the coast of Oman in the Arabian Sea, killing two on board, the US military said yesterday.
The strike on Thursday night on the oil tanker Mercer Street marks the first-known fatal attack after years of assaults on commercial shipping in the region linked to tensions with Iran over its tattered nuclear deal.
While no one has claimed responsibility for the attack, Israeli officials have accused Tehran of launching the drone strike.
While Iran did not directly acknowledge the attack, the strike came as Tehran appears poised to take an even tougher approach with the West as it prepares to inaugurate a protege of Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as president.
The aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan and the guided missile destroyer USS Mitscher were escorting the Mercer Street as it headed to a safe port, the US Navy’s 5th Fleet said in a statement early yesterday.
“US Navy explosives experts are aboard to ensure there is no additional danger to the crew, and are prepared to support an investigation into the attack,” the 5th Fleet said. “Initial indications clearly point to a [drone]-style attack.”
The 5th Fleet statement did not explain how it determined a drone caused the damage, although it described its explosive experts finding “clear visual evidence that an attack had occurred” aboard the Mercer Street.
The US military’s Central Command did not immediately respond to a questions on the evidence.
The Mercer Street is managed by London-based Zodiac Maritime, part of Israeli billionaire Eyal Ofer’s Zodiac Group.
The firm said the attack killed two crew members, one from the UK and the other from Romania. It did not name them, nor did it describe what happened in the assault.
British maritime security firm Ambrey said the attack on Mercer Street had killed one of its team members on board the vessel.
The Mercer Street, empty of cargo, had been on its way from Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, to Fujairah, United Arab Emirates, at the time of the attack, Zodiac Maritime said.
Israeli officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to talk to the media, blamed Tehran for the attack.
They offered no evidence to support their claim.
Israeli Minister of Foreign Affairs Yair Lapid late on Friday said on Twitter that he spoke with British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab about the “need to respond severely” to the attack, although he stopped short of directly blaming Iran.
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