Could an ancient Nile Delta shipwreck be an environmental omen for modern-day Egypt?

n 2016 this imposing five-metre-tall pharaoh was discovered on the seabed at Thonis-Heracleion. (Christoph Gerigk, Franck Goddio/Hilti Foundation)
n 2016 this imposing five-metre-tall pharaoh was discovered on the seabed at Thonis-Heracleion. (Christoph Gerigk, Franck Goddio/Hilti Foundation)
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Updated 23 July 2021

Could an ancient Nile Delta shipwreck be an environmental omen for modern-day Egypt?

n 2016 this imposing five-metre-tall pharaoh was discovered on the seabed at Thonis-Heracleion. (Christoph Gerigk, Franck Goddio/Hilti Foundation)
  • Archaeologists have discovered an ancient ship designed for navigation on the shallow waters of the delta
  • The discovery among the ruins of the sunken city of Thonis-Heracleion serves as a stark environmental warning

LONDON: The very existence of the low-lying Nile Delta, created by sediment deposited by the mighty river even as it is eroded by the waters of the Mediterranean, has always been one of nature’s great balancing acts.

Now, as fears grow over the extent of the threat to Egypt’s coastline posed by climate change, a stunning new archaeological find from the sunken ancient Egyptian city of Thonis-Heracleion serves as a stark warning of the dangers of humankind and nature working in disharmony.

A ship, a rare example of a Ptolemaic galley, has been discovered by Franck Goddio, a French marine archaeologist who, working with Egypt’s Supreme Council for Antiquities, has been leading underwater excavations in Aboukir Bay for the past two decades.

Once Egypt’s most important port, predating the foundation of nearby Alexandria by Alexander the Great in 331 B.C., the ancient city of Thonis-Heracleion — a combination of its ancient Egyptian and Greek names — dates to the eighth century B.C. It was lost to the sea some 1,600 years later, after a series of natural disasters, including an earthquake and tidal waves, took a great bite out of the Egyptian coastline.

The city’s remains, painstakingly uncovered since 2000, are spread over 110 sq km of seabed, some 7km off the modern-day shoreline.

The loss of the ship would have been a cinematically spectacular moment. According to the Paris-based European Institute for Underwater Archaeology (IEASM), which was founded by Goddio, the recently uncovered vessel “sank after being hit by huge blocks from the famed temple of Amun, which was totally destroyed during a cataclysmic event in the second century B.C.”

The marine archaeologists discovered the ship had been moored at a landing stage along the south face of the temple when disaster struck. The heavy stone blocks that were the instruments of its destruction also proved to be the key to its survival for over 2,000 years.

“The fallen blocks protected these precious naval remains by pinning them to the bottom of the deep canal, which was then filled with the debris of the sanctuary,” said a spokesperson for the IEASM.

The galley, which lies under 5 meters of hard clay, its woodwork jumbled with the remains of the temple, was detected thanks to the use of cutting-edge technology: A prototype “sub-bottom profiler” that allowed the archaeologists to see what lay beneath the mud and buried blocks of stone.

What they found was a 25-meter-long rowing ship, which, with a flat-bottom and keel, was designed for navigation on the Nile and the shallow waterways of the delta. It was also equipped with a large mast step, suggestive of a tall mast and a large sail.

“Before this discovery, Hellenistic ships of this type were completely unknown to archaeologists,” said Franck Goddio. Preliminary research showed that the hull was “built in the classical (Greek) tradition … However, it also contains features of ancient Egyptian construction and allows us to speak of a mixed type of construction.”

In another part of the city, the archaeologists have also discovered a large submerged burial mound, “covered with sumptuous funerary offerings,” that dates back to the first years of the 4th century B.C.

This discovery, says the IEASM, “beautifully illustrates the presence of Greek merchants and mercenaries who lived in Thonis–Heracleion, the city that controlled the entrance to Egypt at the mouth of the Canopic branch of the Nile.”




The newly discovered remains of a galley, found beneath the mud in the sunken city of Thonis-Heracleion. The ship was moored alongside the temple of Amun and sunk by huge blocks of stone when the building was dramatically destroyed in the second century BC. (Christoph Gerigk, Franck Goddio/Hilti Foundation)

Greek traders were allowed to settle in the city during the late Pharaonic period. There, they built their own religious sanctuaries, close to the huge temple of Amun, on the banks of a canal that ran through the city. These too were destroyed in the same cataclysmic event that toppled the great temple. Just as the two cultures once thrived side by side, the remains of their respective temples lie together in the mud at the bottom of the bay.

Archaeologists believe these and other buildings, which were discovered in pristine condition, slipped suddenly into the deep canal during a landslide. This was likely caused by several earthquakes, followed by tidal-waves “which triggered land liquefaction events (and) caused a 110 sq km portion of the Nile Delta to collapse under the sea, taking with it the cities of Thonis-Heracleion and Canopus.”

Today, Egypt faces an even greater, if somewhat slower-moving, environmental catastrophe than the one that swept away Thonis-Heracleion and Canopus. According to research over the past decade, the sea is not yet done with swallowing the delta.

Excluding Cairo, which sits at its southernmost end, the delta is home to over 40 percent of Egypt’s population and more than 60 percent of the country’s agricultural land. More than 12 percent of the delta is no higher than a meter above sea level. Another 18 percent, temporarily protected by coastal defenses, which also serve to divert problems of erosion further along the coastline, is actually below sea level.

The delta, the source of most of modern Egypt’s food and the backbone of the country’s economy, was formed and refreshed over millennia by the rich sediment carried down the Nile during the annual floods from the river’s origins south of the equator in the headwaters of the Blue and White Niles.

This timeless process of renewal was first interrupted in 1902 by the construction of the first Aswan Low Dam, and again more seriously in the 1960s by the building of the Aswan High Dam.




This gold image of the god Bes is among the latest finds from the lost city of Thonis-Heracleion. Bes was considered to be the protector of the people in their daily life and was also worshiped as the protector of pregnant women. (Christoph Gerigk, Franck Goddio/Hilti Foundation)

This, concluded researchers at Maryland University’s Department of Geographic and Environmental Systems, writing in the journal of the Geological Society of America in 2017, led to “a marked reduction of Nile water and sediment below the Aswan High Dam that can now reach the delta coast.”

Even as climate change is seeing the level of the Mediterranean rise inexorably, so the lack of sedimentary deposits is causing the delta itself to gradually sink — a problem, they added, “likely to be seriously exacerbated in years ahead by construction of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD).”

Ethiopia is even now pressing ahead with filling the GERD reservoir, despite a lack of agreement on how the process should be managed with its downstream neighbors, Sudan and Egypt.

And the delta is under attack on two fronts.

The vulnerability of the Nile Delta to rising sea levels was highlighted as long ago as 2010 by an environmental scientist at Egypt’s Mansoura University. Analyzing imagery from NASA’s 2000 Shuttle Radar Topography Mission, carried on board the Space Shuttle Endeavor, Mohamed E. Hereher concluded that a rise in sea levels of just 1 meter “would inundate more than a quarter of the Nile Delta area, while a 2 meter sea level rise should relocate the shoreline 60-80 km southward of its current position.”

Back in 2000, as Hereher wrote in the journal Geomatics, Natural Hazards and Risk, it was thought that the more significant threats to the delta were the “blocking of sediment delivery to the coast, possible increased rates of subsidence and the removal of coastal dunes.”




Precious offerings, including imported Greek ceramics, were deposited for funerary purposes by the Greek settlers in Thonis-Heracleion. (Christoph Gerigk, Franck Goddio/Hilti Foundation)

Then, the rate of rising sea levels was not considered a major concern. Thanks to the subsequent global research focus on climate change, however, that has changed.

In a paper presented at the Cairo Water Week conference in 2019, Egyptian researchers concluded that “climate change-related sea level rise has exerted significant impacts on coastal zones and Nile Delta is considered one of the most affected areas. (Potential) coastal inundation, destruction of infrastructure, land cover and displacement of millions of people are among several impacts of sea level rise in the Nile Delta coastal zone.”

The loss of the vital, life-giving land of the delta to the sea is a scenario that would have been painfully familiar to the inhabitants of the ancient cities of Thonis-Heracleion and Canopus, now mere memories preserved in the mud and rubble of a once great civilization.

The Hilti Foundation, a non-profit philanthropic organization based in Liechtenstein, has supported Franck Goddio’s marine archaeology in Egypt since 1996 with the motto: “Exploring the past to understand the present.”

As the story of the destruction of one of the glories of ancient Egypt emerges from the depths of Aboukir Bay, for modern-day Egypt those words carry a message of great urgency.

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Twitter: @JonathanGornall


Syria’s Assad asks PM Hussein Arnous to form new cabinet

Syria’s Assad asks PM Hussein Arnous to form new cabinet
Updated 9 min 44 sec ago

Syria’s Assad asks PM Hussein Arnous to form new cabinet

Syria’s Assad asks PM Hussein Arnous to form new cabinet

AMMAN: Syrian President Bashar al Assad has again tasked Prime Minister Hussein Arnous with forming a new government after he became a caretaker premier following polls last year that extended Assad's presidency.
Assad designated Arnous as prime minister last August to replace Imad Khamis as Syria grappled with a major economic crisis and a plunging currency.


Israelis protest as rising COVID-19 cases trigger new rules

Israelis protest as rising COVID-19 cases trigger new rules
Updated 5 min 55 sec ago

Israelis protest as rising COVID-19 cases trigger new rules

Israelis protest as rising COVID-19 cases trigger new rules
  • Protesters Saturday flew a banner that read, “There’s no pandemic, it’s a con”
  • About one million Israelis still refuse to be vaccinated even though they are eligible

TEL AVIV: Several hundred Israelis demonstrated Saturday in Tel Aviv against new coronavirus restrictions and vaccines as positive cases and hospitalizations rose to levels not seen in months.

The health ministry reported Saturday that 2,435 new Covid cases had been recorded the day before — the highest number since March — driven by the more contagious Delta variant.

There were 326 hospitalizations, the highest since April, although well below the January peak, when more than 2,000 people were being hospitalized daily.

Israel has in recent days rolled out a booster vaccine shot for older citizens, reimposed mask requirements indoors and restored “green pass” restrictions requiring vaccine certificates for entering enclosed spaces such as gyms, restaurants and hotels.

The rise in infections is a step back after Israel’s world-leading vaccine campaign drove down new COVID-19 cases from 10,000 a day to fewer than 100.

Protesters Saturday flew a banner that read, “There’s no pandemic, it’s a con.” They held up placards denouncing coronavirus vaccines, with one poster linking vaccines to the Nazis.

Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz told Israeli Channel 12 TV Saturday that he intended to balance public health with livelihood.

“The economy must remain open,” he said.

“I don’t want to impose a lockdown and I will avoid a lockdown at all costs. Everything is open — but we need masks and we need vaccines.”

Nearly 60 percent of Israel’s 9.3 million people have gotten two shots, mostly with the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine.

But about one million Israelis still refuse to be vaccinated even though they are eligible.

From Sunday, some children between ages five and 11 at risk of health complications will become eligible for vaccines.


Lebanese patients’ deaths due to medicine shortages ‘will become common’

Importers of medicine and medical supplies in Lebanon requires BDL ‘to pay all outstanding payments for import companies.’ (Supplied)
Importers of medicine and medical supplies in Lebanon requires BDL ‘to pay all outstanding payments for import companies.’ (Supplied)
Updated 01 August 2021

Lebanese patients’ deaths due to medicine shortages ‘will become common’

Importers of medicine and medical supplies in Lebanon requires BDL ‘to pay all outstanding payments for import companies.’ (Supplied)
  • Girl, 9, stung by scorpion, dies as vital medicines can only be found on black market at exorbitant prices

BEIRUT: A Lebanese child, Zahra Tleis, died on Friday, after being stung by a scorpion, and her family being unable to find an antidote to treat her, due to medicine shortages in the country.

Some vital medicines can only now be found on the black market, but are sold at exorbitant prices.
The director of Rafik Hariri Governmental Hospital, Dr. Firas Abiad, said “unfortunately, losing patients due to medicine shortages will become more common.”
The head of the National Health Authority, Ismail Sukkarieh, revealed to Arab News that even treatments for dog bites were missing from shelves.
“Such injections should be be available in large quantities in hospitals, and especially governmental hospitals, but have gone missing due to negligence and the medicine crisis.”
Sukkariyeh said the Lebanese people “are paying the price for the irresponsibility of officials and the accumulation of ill-conceived, corrupt and scandalous policies.” He warned that the country will completely collapse if the situation persists.

Zahra Tleis

Lebanon has been facing an economic collapse since 2019, described by the World Bank as “one of the world’s worst crises since the 1850s.” More than half of the population now lives under the poverty line as the local currency, the lira, has lost over 90 percent of its value against the US dollar.
With the depletion of foreign currency reserves at the Lebanese central bank, the Banque du Liban (BDL) and delays in opening lines of credits for imports, the health sector has been facing increasing pressure and fuel shortages.

HIGHLIGHT

Lebanese people ‘are paying the price for the irresponsibility of officials and the accumulation of ill-conceived, corrupt and scandalous policies.’

The country’s electricity company, Electricité du Liban (EDL) has also been unable to provide power due to fuel shortages, and some regions have had to ration electricity for 22 hours a day. Owners of private generators have also been affected by the diesel and fuel crisis, and have resorted to rationing as well.
On Friday the BDL said it sold $293 million in July, in addition to approvals to sell $415 million to import gasoline and diesel and $120 million to import fuel for EDL, bringing the total number to $828 million.
The BDL said in a statement that “despite all the support it (the bank) has provided and its determination to preserve social security, the Lebanese are still facing shortages in diesel.
“The Lebanese have lost access to subsidized goods, which are now sold on the black market to humiliate and deprive the Lebanese of their most basic rights. This has had dangerous impacts on the health sector and food security, due to traders’ determination to smuggle goods or store them to be sold on the black market,” the statement added.
It added that importers of medicine and medical supplies in Lebanon required BDL “to pay all outstanding payments for import companies.” It considered that “frivolous measures have led to the partial or total suspension of imports of 75 percent of companies.”
EDL warned “of the possibility of entering the danger zone and a total interruption of electricity, if the situation persisted.”
Economist Louis Hobeika told Arab News that “there is political and economic pressure on BDL to use the mandatory reserves. But this matter requires a constitutional amendment and such ‘sin’ shall not be committed twice.”
Hobeika recalled what Caretaker Prime Minister Hassan Diab said in May that “the bank’s reserves in 2002 were drawn down to less than a billion dollars.”
Hobeika said that “removing subsidies would end the smuggling, but prices would increase a lot. A ration card was supposed to be issued as an alternative. What happened to this card? With the absence of a future economic vision, messing with the mandatory reserves can have a great risk on the fate of banks and deposits.”
He said that “the political and economic (Lebanese) mafias are stronger than the state; they fear no one, and Lebanese society is divided and fragmented and therefore, does not scare the mafias.”
Meanwhile, political leaders in Lebanon have congratulated the military ahead of Lebanese Army Day, which is celebrated every year on August 1.
President Michel Aoun said “the international community’s determination and commitment to support the Lebanese army reflects its confidence in the army’s role in protecting Lebanon and its constitutional institutions.”
The army on Saturday carried out a raid on a drug factory in Hortaala, Bekaa.
The army command announced that “a soldier was wounded during the raid, and a wanted man that had multiple warrants for his arrest, including robbing citizens, kidnapping, stealing cars, drug dealing, drug use and (firearms charges) was killed. Several other fugitives were arrested.”
Lebanese Army Commander Gen. Joseph Aoun urged soldiers “not to allow anyone to take advantage of the poor living conditions to make you doubt your belief in your country and institution.”


Beirut’s first public skatepark breathes life into ravaged city

Local organizations will help maintain and sustain the park. (Supplied)
Local organizations will help maintain and sustain the park. (Supplied)
Updated 01 August 2021

Beirut’s first public skatepark breathes life into ravaged city

Local organizations will help maintain and sustain the park. (Supplied)
  • Twelve months ago, an explosion in Beirut’s port rocked the capital. Over 200 people were killed after a warehouse inadequately housing highly flammable chemicals caught fire

DUBAI: Dany Sultan and Mike Ritchard have spent most of their adult life on skateboards.
While both young men embraced skating from a relatively young age, Lebanon has not always accepted them back. Up until now, the small Mediterranean country lacked a place to kickflip and grind; a place of inclusivity where people from different backgrounds could come together and work on their craft.
Instead, Sultan, 25 and Ritchard, 19, started most of their morning sessions scouting urban landscapes and public spaces in and around Beirut.
“We’d street skate anyplace that had a ledge, stairs or handrails,” Ritchard told Arab News.
For him and street skaters alike, run-ins with residents and security guards were common. Given the lack of a safe haven to skate, their discipline was viewed as a public nuisance.
“We’ve had a couple of issues with security guards and police,” Ritchard said, adding that he, along with some friends, were briefly detained late last year.
But being hard-wired with a high tolerance for fear and a sense of adventure helped them look past the altercations.
“For years we have reached out to municipalities to try and convince them to support (us) but we were always met with indifference and even resistance,” Sultan said.
Little did any of them know that a group of volunteers and donors would soon pave the way for the country’s first community skatepark in the heart of Beirut: Snoubar (Pine) Skatepark.
Twelve months ago, an explosion in Beirut’s port rocked the capital. Over 200 people were killed after a warehouse inadequately housing highly flammable chemicals caught fire.
As the tragedy made rounds across the globe, it caught the attention of INGO Make Life Skate Life (MLSL).
“My friend Arne Hillerns, who runs MLSL, reached out after seeing the blast on the news back in Brussels,” Esther Chang, a skater and yoga instructor currently based in Beirut, told Arab News. She, along with Arne and another local skater, put together a relief fund to support the local skaters with anything from hospital bills to rebuilding doors and windows, to even supporting a local skater’s tuition for a few semesters at university.
After also giving away over 80 skateboards with the support of skaters around the world, only one thing was left to do: Build an actual skatepark.
“There was still this dream of building a skatepark that the locals have had for decades,” Chang said.
Horsh Beirut, the Lebanese capital’s largest park and pine forest, would serve as the optimal location.
“We pitched the idea to Beirut’s municipality —  a free-of-charge and public skatepark in Beirut for youth — asked for some land, and to our surprise they offered it to us,” Chang said.

To turn the dream into reality, a massive crowdfunding campaign was launched alongside donations from corporate and individual sponsors.

Axel A., a visual artist based in Dubai, auctioned off a customized skateboard. Decathlon, the French sports retailer, committed thousands of dollars.

“There was funding from a variety of sources including individuals as well as corporate sponsors such as the Decathlon Foundation, Air France and CHPO,” Samantha Robinson, MLSL’s creative director, told Arab News.

The nonprofit has previously completed sustainable skateparks in India, Bolivia, Jordan, Myanmar, Ethiopia, Nepal, Morocco and Iraq with free on-site skateboarding, safety equipment loan systems and lessons with partner organizations.

“Local NGO arcenciel will help maintain and sustain the park while another NGO, Just Childhood, will create a program for free skateboarding lessons for the local youth in the neighboring Shatila Palestinian refugee camp,” Chang added.

“When Arne from MLSL contacted us to help build the first public, free skatepark in Beirut we were so excited to be part of it,” Jean-Philippe Rode, a skateboarder and product manager for Decathlon Skateboarding in France, told Arab News.

After gaining the financial support of the Decathlon Foundation, which forked out €50,000 ($59,352) in June, volunteers from across the world traveled to Beirut to take part in the project, coming from as far as Colombia, the US and Costa Rica.

The park was designed and constructed through the help of over 50 volunteers and local skaters alongside professional skatepark builders, who did “extremely taxing physical labor in the blazing hot sun, through stomach illnesses, dehydration and fatigue,” Robinson and Chang noted.

“They have such an admirable dedication to spreading the love of skateboarding and helping build the skate community here in Lebanon,” Robinson added.

One such volunteer was Dave Eassa, a lifelong skateboarder, visual artist and cultural worker from Baltimore in the US.

While serving as an artist in residence at Al-Raseef 153, a new arts space that is a part of the 7Hills skatepark and organization in Amman, Jordan, Eassa caught wind of the project during a conversation with 7Hills’ director.

“After speaking with Mohammed Zakaria (director of 7Hills) and German skater Matze, I bought a plane ticket at the last minute and headed to Beirut for 8 days to help with whatever I could,” Eassa said.

Skateboarding, Chang explained, has many intrinsic qualities beyond the sport itself. It has come a long way, breaking out of the fringes where it was regarded as counter-cultural, and propelling itself into the limelight by making its debut at the Tokyo Olympic Games this summer.

The skatepark, she said, will give youths a space to “gather, share ideas, and support each other in something they all have in common, skateboarding. No matter their age, gender, religion, they come together as skaters.”

Officially completed on Thursday, the park will give skaters like Sultan and Ritchard a place to safely spin down ramps and loop around a quarter pipe, away from any harassment.

The sense of community fostered during the build has been unmatched, the skaters said.

“It is truly a beautiful thing to see so many people coming together to volunteer their expertise, time and energy toward spreading the love of skateboarding,” Eassa said. 

“Skateboarding has saved so many of us, giving us purpose in our lives, and created lifelong bonds and friendships across the globe so naturally it makes sense that so many of us wanted to give back to the existing and future generations of Lebanese skateboarders,” he added.

For the past year, Lebanon’s has faced many social, political and economic problems. Skyrocketing unemployment, inflation and rising food insecurity are only the tip of the crisis.

“For many, skateboarding represents a positive outlet of energy and emotions, which proves to be priceless in such a troubled and distressed country. In truly trying times, it is such an important outlet, a place to leave all the issues of the world behind even just for a little.” Eassa said.

“In the midst of so much chaos, people came together to create something beautiful and for one another,” Chang, who is leaving Beirut after spending over two years there, said.

Yet Rode, like Chang, Eassa and the rest of the crew, will be back.

“There is no way you work on a skatepark and don’t skate it, so we’ll have to come back soon,” the 45-year-old skating aficionado said.


UN urged to curb ‘Iranian terrorism’ after armed drone strike on tanker

UN urged to curb ‘Iranian terrorism’ after armed drone strike on tanker
Updated 01 August 2021

UN urged to curb ‘Iranian terrorism’ after armed drone strike on tanker

UN urged to curb ‘Iranian terrorism’ after armed drone strike on tanker
  • Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said he has ordered the nation’s diplomats to push for UN action against “Iranian terrorism”

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.

HIGHLIGHT

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.

(With AFP)