Israel accuses Iran over deadly oil tanker attack

Israel has accused Iran of being responsible for an attack on an oil tanker in which two crew members – a British national and a Romanian citizen – were killed.

Oil products tanker Mercer Street (IMO 9539585), operated by London-based Zodiac Maritime, was off Oman’s coast in the Arabian Sea when the incident occurred on Thursday July 29th.

The company, which belongs to Israeli shipping magnate Eyal Ofer, said it was working to establish what had happened.

Iran has not commented on the Israeli foreign minister’s allegations.

The US Navy said on Saturday that it was assisting the Mercer Street, adding that the ship was most likely hit by a drone strike.

“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,” said the Central Command, which oversees American military operations in the Middle East and Central Asia, adding that “initial indications clearly point to a UAV-style (drone) attack”.

The vessel is currently being escorted by the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan, the US Central Command said.

In a statement on Friday, Israel’s foreign minister Yair Lapid blamed “Iranian terrorism”. “Iran is not just an Israeli problem,” Mr Lapid said, adding: “The world must not be silent.”

An Iranian Arabic-language television station quoted unnamed sources saying the attack was revenge for an alleged Israeli attack on an airport in Syria, an ally of Iran’s.

Details of the attack on the Mercer Street remained unclear.

A spokesperson for the UK government said on Friday that it was trying to “urgently establish the facts”, adding that “our thoughts are with the loved ones of a British national who has died following an incident on a tanker off the coast of Oman”.

On Friday Zodiac Maritime announced the two deaths with “profound sadness”. It said no other injuries had been reported.

The company added that the vessel was now “sailing under the control of her crew” and heading to a safe location.

The UK Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) naval authority said it was investigating the incident, which occurred near the Omani island of Masirah, and confirmed that “coalition forces” were assisting the vessel.

The US state department said it was “deeply concerned” by the reports and was “monitoring the situation closely”.

The tanker had been travelling in the northern Indian Ocean to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) from Dar es Salaam in Tanzania. The vessel was in ballast at the time.

An unnamed Israeli official said it would be hard for Israel to turn a blind eye to the attack.

VesselsValue data shows the 2013-built vessel belongs to Japan-based Taihei Kaiun KK.

2013-built, Liberia-flagged, 28,426 gt Mercer Street is owned by Friend Nine Shipping SA care of Eastern Pacific Shipping Pte of Singapore. It is managed by Zodiac maritime of London, UK. It is entered with UK Club on behalf of Zodiac Tankers Chartering Ltd.