Briton among two dead after attack on ship near Omani coast

·4-min read
The oil tanker Mercer Street  (AP)
The oil tanker Mercer Street (AP)

A Briton is one of two people killed in a “piracy” attack on an oil tanker near the coast of Oman, the vessel’s owners have announced.

The Briton was onboard the M/T Mercer Street, when it came under attack on Thursday night.

The ship’s owners Zodiac Maritime, a London-based Israeli company, said a Briton and a Romanian national had died in the attack.

A statement read: “With profound sadness, we understand the incident onboard the M/T Mercer Street on 29 July, 2021, has resulted in the deaths of two crew members onboard: a Romanian national and a UK national. We are not aware of harm to any other personnel.”

They added that an investigation into the incident is currently underway. The two deaths mark the first fatalities following years of assaults targeting shipping in the region.

Zodiac Maritime is owned by Israeli businessman Eyal Ofer but its London-based office oversees the ship. The M/T Mercer Street is a “Japanese-owned vessel”, the company said, with shipping publication Lloyd’s List stating that the owner is Taihei Kaiun Co., which belongs to the Tokyo-based shipping company Nippon Yusen Group.

In an earlier statement on Friday, Zodiac Maritime said: “We can confirm that there has been a suspected piracy incident onboard the product tanker M/T Mercer Street.”

The statement added: “At the time of the incident the vessel was in the northern Indian Ocean, travelling from Dar es Salaam [in Tanzania] to Fujairah [in the UAE] with no cargo onboard.”

The identity of the British victim is yet to be revealed. Zodiac Maritime didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment by The Independent.

“We continue to work closely with the UKMOT (United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations) and other relevant authorities,” the statement added.

In a statement sent to The Independent, a Ministry of Defence spokesperson 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.”

A brief initial statement from the United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations said an investigation is underway into the incident.

It described it as happening late on Thursday night, north-east of the Omani island of Masirah, 185 miles southeast of Oman’s capital, Muscat.

The statement categorised the incident as a “non-piracy” attack.

A US official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the ongoing investigation, told The Associated Press that the attack appeared to have been carried out by a “one-way” drone and other drones took part. The official said it wasn’t immediately known who launched the attack and declined to elaborate.

The official’s remark came after an earlier report from private maritime intelligence firm Dryad Global referred to a drone sighting involving the vessel prior to the attack. Iran and Yemen’s Tehran-backed Houthi rebels have employed suicide drones in the past, unmanned aircraft loaded with explosives that detonate on impact with a target.

Omani officials did not respond to requests for comment. The sultanate sits on the eastern edge of the Arabian Peninsula and is along vital shipping routes for cargo and energy moving through the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow mouth of the Persian Gulf.

Israeli officials have not yet acknowledged the attack. However, other Israel-linked ships have been targeted in recent months amid a shadow war between the two nations, with Israeli officials blaming the Islamic Republic for the assaults.

Israel, meanwhile, has been suspected in a series of major attacks targeting Iran’s nuclear programme.

Iran also saw its largest warship, the Kharg, recently catch fire and sink under mysterious circumstances in the nearby Gulf of Oman.

Thursday’s attack comes amid heightened tensions over Iran’s tattered nuclear deal, as negotiations over restoring the accord stalled in Vienna.

The attack came the night after US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, speaking from Kuwait, warned Iran that talks in Vienna over the nuclear deal “cannot go on indefinitely”.

This is the second time this month a ship tied to Ofer apparently has been targeted.

The Liberian-flagged container ship CSAV Tyndall, suffered an unexplained explosion on board while in the northern Indian Ocean at the beginning of July.

Additional reporting by AP

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