A ship called Mercer Street, with ties to Israeli billionaire Eyal Ofer’s Zodiac Group, was attacked off Oman, and two were killed in the brazen attack, according to authorities who announced the incident on Friday.
The oil tanker reportedly came under attack on Thursday off the coast of Oman in the Arabian Sea, and two crew members were killed, marking the first shipping-related fatalities after years of assaults targeting shipping in the troubled region.
There was no immediate claim responsibility for the Thursday night raid on the Liberian-flagged tanker. However, a US official stated that it appears a so-called suicide drone was used in the brazen attack, raising the specter of a government or a militia group being involved.
Vessels from the U.S. Navy which were nearby rushed to the scene after the attack and subsequently escorted the tanker to a safe harbor in Oman, according to information provided by a London-based ship management company on Friday.
Mercer Street attack worst shipping-related violence since 2019
The assault was the worst maritime violence in regional attacks on shipping since the year 2019. US, Israeli and other nations have blamed the attacks on Iran as its nuclear deal with the western world falls apart.
Making the situation even more precarious, Iran seems to be on the cusp of yet another lurch toward isolationism as it prepares to inaugurate as President a hard-line successor to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei next week.
The Thursday night attack hit the tanker, which was underway at the time, just northeast of the Omani island of Masirah, which is located over 300 kilometers (185 miles) southeast of Oman’s capital city of Muscat.
According to the London-based firm Zodiac Maritime, which is part of Israeli billionaire Eyal Ofer’s Zodiac Group, the attack killed one crew member from the United Kingdom and another from Romania. No names were provided and there was no description of exactly how the attack played out.
However, at this point it appears that no other crew members on board were harmed in the assault on the oil tanker.
The Zodiac Maritime statement said “At the time of the incident the vessel was in the northern Indian Ocean, traveling from Dar es Salaam (Tanzania) to Fujairah (United Arab Emirates) with no cargo onboard.”
Per information from the website marinetraffic.com, using satellite data, the vessel had indeed been near where British officials maintain that the attack occurred. The last signal from the ship had been sent sometime on early Friday morning.
Zodiac Maritime stated that the Mercer Street’s owners were Japanese, but declined to name them. Worldwide shipping authority Lloyd’s List has the vessel’s ultimate owner as the Taihei Kaiun Co., which is a part of the Tokyo-based Nippon Yusen Group.
As of Friday afternoon, Zodiac Maritime stated that the Mercer Street was sailing under the control of her crew “to a safe location with a U.S. naval escort.” The U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet, which patrols the entire Mideast, did not respond to a request for comment from the Associated Press.
Mercer Street investigation underway by British, coalition forces
Reportedly, the British military’s United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations group said that an investigation was already underway into the brazen assault on the ship and that coalition forces were taking part in the effort.
A US official, who was speaking on condition of anonymity, told the Associated Press that the attack appeared to have been carried out by a “one-way” drone but that other unmanned aerial vehicles also took part.
The official admitted that it wasn’t immediately known exactly who had launched the attack and declined to elaborate further on the incident.
He made his remarks after an earlier report emerged from private maritime intelligence firm Dryad Global, which stated that there was a drone sighting involving the vessel before to the attack.
Both Iran and Yemen’s Tehran-backed Houthi rebels have used suicide drones, or unmanned aircraft which are loaded with explosives that detonate on impact, in the past.
As of the present time, there have been no statements released from the Omani authorities. The sultanate is located on the eastern side of the Arabian Peninsula, along crucial shipping routes for oil and gas which are transported through the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow opening of the Persian Gulf.
There was also no acknowledgement of the attack from officials in Israel. There have been other Israel-linked ships that have been targeted in the recent past, as a small-scale conflict continues between the two nations, which has seen Israeli officials blame the Islamic Republic for assaults.
Israel itself has been the center of suspicion recently in several major attacks targeting Iran’s controversial nuclear program. Just weeks ago, Iran’s largest warship sank under still-unexplained circumstances in the Gulf of Oman.
However, the attack on Thursday occurred just after the stalling of talks regarding Iran’s nuclear deal in Vienna.
The most recent series of ship attacks which authorities suspected were carried out by Iran started one year after then-President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew the US from the accord in 2018.
Iranian media acknowledged the attack, quoting foreign press reports, offered no other comments on the incident.
However, the attack occurred just one night after US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s Kuwait remarks in which he warned Iran that the Vienna talks “cannot go on indefinitely.”
The attack is the second time this month in which a ship tied to Israeli billionaire Ofer appears to have been targeted. Early in July, the Liberian-flagged container ship CSAV Tyndall, which once also had ties to Zodiac Maritime, experienced an explosion — which is still unexplained — while it was underway in the northern Indian Ocean, according to information from the U.S. Maritime Administration.