British citizen killed in 'suspected piracy' attack on tanker off coast of Oman

·3-min read
File image of the Liberian-flagged oil tanker Mercer Street off Cape Town, South Africa - AP/AP
File image of the Liberian-flagged oil tanker Mercer Street off Cape Town, South Africa - AP/AP

A British crew member has been killed in a suspected pirate attack on an oil tanker off the coast of Oman, the ship's Israeli operator confirmed on Friday.

The Mercer Street vessel was passing through the Arabian Sea on Thursday night when it was struck by unknown assailants, killing one British and one Romanian crew member.

"We are not aware of harm to any other personnel," said the London office of Israeli ship operator Zodiac Maritime in a statement on Friday afternoon, adding that it had launched an investigation alongside UK maritime authorities.

It was not immediately clear who was behind the attack on the ship, which is owned by a Japanese firm, though pirates have been known to prey on vessels passing across the Arabian Sea.

The attack may be linked to heightened tensions between Israel and Iran over stalled talks in Vienna aimed at reviving the Obama-era nuclear deal.

Both countries have been accused of attacking each other's vessels as part of a so-called shadow war in the Gulf region.

Israeli forces are also suspected of launching a series of raids on Iranian nuclear facilities amid concerns that the regime is on the brink of developing a nuclear weapon.

Zodiac Maritime belongs to the Israeli billionaire Eyal Ofer, which raises the prospect that it may have been targeted by either Iranian forces or their proxy groups in the region.

"We can confirm that there has been a suspected piracy incident onboard the product tanker M/T Mercer Street," Zodiac Maritime's London office said in an earlier statement on Friday.

"The ship is a Japanese owned vessel managed by our UK based Zodiac Maritime Office. At the time of the incident the vessel was in the northern Indian Ocean, travelling from Dar es Salaam to Fujairah with no cargo onboard," it added.

Zodiac Maritime said it was coordinating with the Royal Navy's United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations [MTO], which first confirmed that an attack had taken place. Israeli officials declined to comment on the attack when approached on Friday.

A UK ministry of defence spokesman said: “We are aware of reports of an attack on a merchant vessel off the coast of Oman. UK military headquarters in the region are currently conducting investigations."

According to shipping databases, the Mercer Street is a medium-size tanker which was flying under the Liberian flag. It is believed to have 27 crew members on board of various nationalities.

The attack on Thursday night follows a similar incident earlier this month, where a vessel formerly owned by Zodiac Maritime, the CSAV Tyndall, caught fire en route to the United Arab Emirates.

Israeli officials said at that time that they believed Iran was behind the attack. Prior to that, in October, Iran said that one of its oil tankers had been hit by two missiles in the Red Sea in what it described as a "terrorist attack."

There was no immediate response from Iran to the attack on the Mercer Street vessel as of Friday.

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