Drone-bomb hits oil tanker off Oman; Vessel is linked to an Israeli billionaire

DUBAI, Nov 16, (Agencies): 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, officials said Wednesday. Meanwhile, Greece said Iran freed two Greek oil tankers held by Tehran since May.

This undated photo made available by Nabeel Hashmi shows Liberian-flagged oil tanker Pacific Zircon, operated by Singapore-based Eastern Pacific Shipping in Jebel Ali port, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, on Aug. 16, 2015. 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. (AP)

The drone attack on the Liberian-flagged oil tanker Pacific Zircon happened Tuesday night off the coast of Oman, one Mideast-based defense official told The Associated Press. The official was not authorized to discuss the attack publicly and spoke on the condition of anonymity. The Pacific Zircon 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.” An Israeli official, who spoke to the AP on the condition of anonymity to discuss unpublicized details of the attack, said that it appeared Iran carried out the attack with a Shahed-136 exploding drone. Iran has supplied those drones to Russia, which has been using them to target infrastructure and civilian targets in Ukraine.

“It is an Iranian attack, there is a consensus on this in the Israeli intelligence and defense community,” the official said. Iran’s government did not acknowledge the attack on the Pacific Zircon. Iran’s mission to the United Nations did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Oil prices rose slightly as news of the attack spread, with Brent crude benchmark trading above $94 a barrel.

Later Wednesday, Greek officials said two of Greek oil tankers – Delta Poseidon and Prudent Warrior – had been freed, along with their sailors. Tracking data from Marine-Traffic.com showed the vessels sailing away from the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas where they had been held since May after being seized in a helicopter-born raid by Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard. Their seizure came after Greece assisted the United States in seizing oil days earlier than the Iranian-flagged tanker Lana.

“Today is a very pleasant day for our sailors, but also for Greece in general, since an unpleasant and particularly complex case came to an end, following systematic efforts by the Greek government,” Greek Shipping Minister Giannis Plakiotakis said in a statement.

Tehran did not immediately acknowledge the ships’ release. Both vessels appeared to be heading to the United Arab Emirates. While no one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack off the coast of Oman, suspicion immediately fell on Iran. Tehran and Israel have been engaged in a years long 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 taking place off the coast of the United Arab Emirates in 2019.

Director-General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Rafael Grossi on Wednesday accused Iran of failing to meet its nuclear commitments in the past few months. “My report on verification and monitoring in the Islamic Republic of Iran in light of United Nations Security Council resolution 2231 covers relevant activities of the Agency in the past few months. Since February 23 2021, Iran has not been implementing its nuclear-related commitments under the JCPOA, including its commitments under the Additional Protocol,” he told a meeting of the iaea Board of Governors.

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