DUBAI (Reuters) -Two crew members, a Briton and a Romanian, were killed when a petroleum products tanker managed by Israeli-owned Zodiac Maritime came under attack on Thursday off Oman, the company said on Friday, in an assault that U.S. and European sources suspect Iran of carrying out.
London-based Zodiac said on its website that the attack in the Arabian Sea on the Mercer Street, a Liberian-flagged, Japanese-owned ship, was “suspected piracy”, adding that it was still being investigated.
But U.S. and European sources familiar with intelligence reporting told Reuters Iran was the leading suspect, stressing that their governments were still seeking conclusive evidence.
Separately, a U.S. defence official said the ship appeared to have been attacked by a drone, or unmanned aerial vehicle. A spokesman for the Israeli embassy in Washington confirmed an attack took place but gave no details on how or who might have been to blame.
There was no immediate reaction by Iran to the accusation that it may have been responsible.
Israeli news website Ynet said the assessment in Israel was that there were two attacks on the ship, spaced several hours apart. The first caused no damage, and the second hit the bridge, causing the casualties.
It quoted an unnamed Israeli official as saying: “Israel will find it hard to turn a blind eye” to the attack.
Iran and Israel have traded accusations of attacking each other’s vessels in recent months. 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.
The United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO), which provides maritime security information, said the attack was not piracy. The vessel was about 152 nautical miles (280 km) northeast of the Omani port of Duqm when it was attacked, it said.
Zodiac, which is owned by the wealthy Israeli Ofer family, said the ship was sailing under the control of its crew and own power to a safe location with a U.S. naval escort.
According to Refinitiv ship tracking, the Mercer Street, a medium-size tanker, was headed for Fujairah, a bunkering port and oil terminal in the United Arab Emirates, from Dar es Salaam in Tanzania.
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