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US Navy says drone strike hit oil tanker off Oman

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DUBAI: 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 American military said on Saturday.

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 alleged Tehran launched the drone strike.

While Iran did not directly acknowledge the attack, the strike comes as Tehran now appears poised to take an even tougher approach with the West as the country prepares to inaugurate a hardline protge of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as president.

The American nuclear-powered 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 Mideast-based 5th Fleet said in a statement on Saturday.

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 drone attack blasted a hole through the top of the oil tanker’s bridge, where the captain and crew command the vessel, a US official said.

The Mercer Street is managed by London-based Zodiac Maritime, part of Israeli billionaire Eyal Ofers Zodiac Group. The firm 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.

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. The attack targeted the tanker just northeast of the Omani island of Masirah, over 300 kilometres southeast of Oman’s capital, Muscat. Oman’s state-run news agency described the area as beyond Omani regional waters and said its forces responded to the tanker’s mayday call.

Zodiac Maritime described the Mercer Streets owners as Japanese, without naming them. Shipping authority Lloyds List identified the vessels ultimate owner as Taihei Kaiun Co., which belongs to the Tokyo-based Nippon Yusen Group.

Israeli officials blamed Tehran for the attack. They offered no evidence to support their claim.

Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid tweeted late on Friday 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.

Published in Dawn, August 1st, 2021


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