Two crew killed in attack on Israeli-managed tanker off Oman

Two crew members, a Briton and a Romanian, were killed when a petroleum products tanker managed by Israeli-owned Zodiac Maritime came under attack on Thursday off Oman’s coast, the company said on Friday.

London-based Zodiac said on its website that the attack in the Arabian Sea on Mercer Street, a Liberian-flagged Japanese-owned ship, was still being investigated.

The US 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.

The assault represented the worst-known maritime violence so far in regional attacks on shipping since 2019. The US, Israel and others have blamed the attacks on Iran amid the unraveling of Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers.

Iran now already 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.

Earlier on Friday, it had described the incident as suspected piracy but the United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO), which provides maritime security information, says it was not piracy.

“Details of the incident are still being established and an investigation into the incident is currently underway. We continue to work closely with the UKMTO and other relevant authorities,” said Zodiac, which is owned by the wealthy Israeli Ofer family.

The ministry had earlier misidentified the ship’s owners.

Oman did not immediately acknowledge the attack, while there was no comment by Israeli officials.

A US 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 other drones took part. The official said it wasn’t immediately known who launched the attack and declined to elaborate.

The official’s remark came after an earlier report from private maritime intelligence firm Dryad Global referred to a drone sighting involving the vessel prior to the attack. Iran and Yemen’s Tehran-backed Houthi rebels have employed suicide drones in the past, unmanned aircraft loaded with explosives that detonate on impact with a target.

Other Israel-linked ships have been targeted in recent months as well amid a shadow war between the two nations, with Israeli officials blaming the Islamic Republic for the assaults.

Israel meanwhile has been suspected in a series of major attacks targeting Iran’s nuclear program. Iran also saw its largest warship recently sink under mysterious circumstances in the nearby Gulf of Oman.

Tensions have risen in the Gulf region since the United States re-imposed sanctions on Iran in 2018 after then-President Donald Trump withdrew Washington from Tehran’s 2015 nuclear deal with major powers.

Washington has blamed Iran for a number of attacks on shipping in strategic Gulf waters, including on four vessels, two of them Saudi oil tankers, in May 2019. Iran distanced itself from those attacks.

In recent months, Iran and Israel have traded accusations of attacking each other’s vessels.

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