Shipping firm says Tuesday night’s attack caused minor damage to Pacific Zircon, no injuries or spillage; Israeli defense officials said to suspect Iran, which doesn’t comment
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 tensions with Iran, an official told The Associated Press on Wednesday.
The attack happened Tuesday night off the coast of Oman, the Middle East-based defense official said. The official spoke on condition of anonymity as they did not have the authorization to discuss the attack publicly.
The United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations, a British military organization in the region monitoring shipping, told the AP: “We are aware of an incident and it’s being investigated at this time.”
The official 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” some 150 miles (240 kilometers) off the coast of Oman.
“We are in communication with the vessel and there are 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 rang unanswered. Prime Minister Yair Lapid’s office and Israel’s Defense Ministry declined to comment.
While no one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, suspicion immediately fell on Iran.
Unnamed Israeli defense officials cited by Channel 13 news estimated that Iran was indeed behind the attack. They added that the main goal wasn’t to hit an Israel-linked target, but rather to disrupt preparations for the soccer World Cup in nearby Qatar.
While Doha maintains good relations with Tehran, with whom it shares a massive natural offshore natural gas field, Israelis will be attending the tournament. Iran’s national team also will face Britain and the US in first-round matches, two countries it accuses of fomenting regional unrest.
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 US 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 United States unilateral withdrawal from its atomic deal with world powers.
Iranian state media did not immediately acknowledge the attack on the Pacific Zircon.
It wasn’t immediately clear where the vessel was 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 chose, though Tehran insists its program is peaceful.