Israel accuses Iran of attack on Mercer Street tanker

“What we have here is a terrorist act by Iran,” a TV channel cited the unnamed Israeli official as saying.

An Israeli official has accused Iran of staging a drone attack on a tanker off the Omani coast on Thursday, Israel’s Channel 13 TV said on Friday.

Zodiac Maritime, the Israeli-owned company which manages the Mercer Street, a Japanese-owned Liberian-flagged tanker, had earlier said the attack killed two crewmen, a Briton and a Romanian and described it as suspected piracy.

“What we have here is a terrorist act by Iran,” the TV channel cited the unnamed Israeli official as saying.

“The Romanian fatality was apparently the captain of the ship and the Briton a security man. The Iranians struck the ship’s body using an unmanned aerial vehicle,” he added.

There was no immediate reaction from the Iranian authorities to the accusation.

The London-based Zodiac Maritime said on its website that the attack in the Arabian Sea on the Mercer Street was still being investigated.

Earlier on Friday it had described the incident as suspected piracy but the United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO), which provides maritime security information, says it was not piracy.

“Details of the incident are still being established and an investigation into the incident is currently under way. We continue to work closely with the UKMTO and other relevant authorities,” said Zodiac Maritime, which is owned by the wealthy Israeli Ofer family.

The UKMTO said the vessel was about 152 nautical miles (280 km) northeast of the Omani port of Duqm when it was attacked. It gave no more details on the type of vessel, its cargo, owner nor about possible casualties.

It said it was “not aware of harm to any other personnel” other than the slain British and Romanian crew members.

Zodiac Maritime said the ship was now sailing under the control of its crew and own power to a safe location with a US naval escort.

In an advisory note, UKMTO said it had been informed that regional search and rescue authorities and coalition forces have been tasked to assist the vessel.

According to Refinitiv ship tracking, the Mercer Street, a medium-size tanker, was headed to Fujairah, a bunkering port and oil terminal in the United Arab Emirates, from Dar es Salaam in Tanzania.

Tensions have risen in the Gulf region since the United States reimposed sanctions on Iran in 2018 after then-President Donald Trump withdrew Washington from Tehran’s 2015 nuclear deal with major powers.

Washington has blamed Iran for a number of attacks on shipping in strategic Gulf waters, including on four vessels, including two Saudi oil tankers, in May 2019. Iran distanced itself from those attacks.

In recent months Iran and Israel have traded accusations of attacking each other’s vessels.

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