Suspicion falls on Iran as oil tanker “hit by a projectile” off Oman
Dubai, United Arab Emirates — An oil tanker associated with an Israeli billionaire has been struck by a bomb-carrying drone off the coast of Oman amid heightened tension with Iran, an official told The Associated Press on Wednesday. The attack happened Tuesday night off the coast of Oman, the Mideast-based defense official said. The official spoke on condition of anonymity as they did not have authorization to discuss the attack publicly.
The United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations, a British military organization in the region that monitors shipping, told the AP: “We are aware of an incident and it’s being investigated at this time.”
The Reuters news agency quoted Commander Timothy Hawkins of the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet, which also operates extensively across the region, as saying the American military was aware of an incident in the Gulf of Oman involving a commercial vessel, but offering no further comment.
The official who spoke to the AP identified the vessel attacked as the Liberian-flagged oil tanker Pacific Zircon. That tanker is operated by Singapore-based Eastern Pacific Shipping, which is a company ultimately owned by Israeli billionaire Idan Ofer.
In a statement, Eastern Pacific Shipping said the Pacific Zircon, carrying gas oil, had been “hit by a projectile” about 150 miles off the coast of Oman. It was not immediately clear whether the explosion was caused by an air or sea-borne device, both of which have been used in attacks on commercial vessels in the region..
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“We are in communication with the vessel and there is no reports of injuries or pollution. All crew are safe and accounted for,” the company said. “There is some minor damage to the vessel’s hull but no spillage of cargo or water ingress.”
A call to the Israeli Embassy in Abu Dhabi was not answered. The Israeli prime minister’s office and defense ministry declined to comment.
While no one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, suspicion immediately fell on Iran. Tehran and Israel have been engaged in a yearslong shadow war in the wider Middle East, with some drone attacks targeting Israeli-associated vessels traveling around the region.
The U.S. also blamed Iran for a series of attacks occurring off the coast of the United Arab Emirates in 2019. Tehran then had begun escalating its nuclear program following the U.S.’ unilateral withdraw from its atomic deal with world powers.
In 2021, a suspected Iranian drone strike hit the Israeli-associated oil tanker Mercer Street off Oman, killing two people onboard.
Iranian state media did not immediately acknowledge the attack on the Pacific Zircon. It wasn’t immediately clear where the vessel was on Wednesday. Satellite-tracking data from late Tuesday provided by MarineTraffic.com put the vessel deep in the Arabian Sea after leaving the Omani port of Sohar.
Since the collapse of Iran’s nuclear deal, nonproliferation experts warn the Islamic Republic now has enough enriched uranium to make at least one nuclear weapon if it chooses to do so, though Tehran insists its program is peaceful.
Iran also has been lashing out at its perceived enemies abroad amid monthslong nationwide protests now challenging its theocracy.
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