JEDDAH: The UN was urged on Saturday to take action against “Iranian terrorism” after a tanker was attacked by explosives-laden drones in the Indian Ocean off the coast of Oman.
Two crewmen, one British and one Romanian, died in Thursday’s attack on the MT Mercer Street, which was on its way from Dar es Salaam in Tanzania to Fujairah in the UAE.
The US military said that early indications “clearly point” to a drone strike on the Mercer Street.
Iran’s Arabic-language Al-Alam state TV channel, citing “informed regional sources,” said the attack was a “response to a recent Israeli attack” targeting an airport in central Syria where Iran is backing the regime.
The Liberian-flagged Japanese-owned vessel is operated by Zodiac Maritime, an Israeli company based in the UK. On Saturday the ship was being escorted into port by the American aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan.
“US Navy personnel are on the Mercer Street, assisting the vessel’s crew,” the US military’s Central Command said. “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 maritime industry analysts Dryad Global said the attack had “the hallmarks of the ongoing Israel/Iran ‘shadow war’.”
It said the attack was the fifth against a ship connected to Israel since February, and two ships linked to Iran had been attacked in the same period.
Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid ordered his country’s diplomats to push for UN action against “Iranian terrorism.”
He said: “I’ve instructed the embassies in Washington, London and the UN to work with their interlocutors in government and the relevant delegations in the UN headquarters in New York.
“Iran is not just an Israeli problem, but an exporter of terrorism, destruction and instability that are hurting us all.”
Lapid said he had also spoken to British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, stressing “the need to respond severely to the attack on the ship in which a British citizen was killed.”
The US military said early indications “clearly point” to a drone strike on the Mercer Street. Several unmanned Iranian drones appear to have carried out the attack, crashing into living quarters under the ship’s command center.
Iranian state TV said the drone strike was retaliation to “a recent Israeli attack” on Iranian targets at an airport in central Syria.
Several unmanned Iranian drones appear to have carried out the attack on the Mercer Street, crashing into living quarters under the ship’s command center, the New York Times reported citing anonymous Israeli officials.
A US official told the newspaper Americans boarded the ship to investigate the attack.
By Friday afternoon, Zodiac Maritime said the ship was “sailing under the control of her crew” to a safe location under the protection of a US naval escort.
Several Iranian drones appear to have carried out the attack, crashing into living quarters under the ship’s command center.
The strike on the tanker comes as European powers meet with Iran in an effort to shore up a 2015 agreement to curtail the Islamic republic’s nuclear program in exchange for lifting sanctions.
The accord was strained when in 2018 former US President Donald Trump withdrew the US unilaterally and reimposed sanctions.
Negotiations in Vienna, where the US is indirectly taking part, have stalled ahead of next week’s inauguration of newly elected ultra-conservative Iranian president Ebrahim Raisi.
Retired Israeli Brig. Gen. Shlomo Brom, a senior research fellow at Israel’s Institute for National Security Studies, said the attack appeared to copy elements of an Israeli exploding drone strike on a centrifuge manufacturing site in Iran in June.
Israel “started developing drones and was among the first to develop the concept of a kamikaze,” Gen. Brom said.
“The Iranians are imitating us and adopting the same techniques.” Iran’s strike was “a certain escalation but aimed at avoiding a full-scale war,” he said. “They are not interested in a wider escalation, just as we are not interested in a wider escalation.”
In June, Iran said it had foiled a sabotage attack on an atomic energy agency building near the city of Karaj west of Tehran.
But aerial photographs obtained by private Israeli intelligence firm The Intel Lab revealed damage to the site.