U.S., UK Accuse Iran of Conducting Drone Strike on Japanese Tanker

Iranian drones prepared for launch (file image courtesy Mehr News / CC BY SA 3.0)

Published Aug 1, 2021 5:19 PM by The Maritime Executive

Western security officials claim that evidence strongly suggests that Iran was behind the attack on a Japanese-owned, UK-managed tanker off Oman last week, and the U.S. and Israel have promised to take action in response. 

Two seafarers were killed in the attack on the Israeli-linked tanker Mercer Street, the latest in a string of incidents widely believed to be an ongoing tit-for-tat between Iran and Israel. The victims included a British security contractor and one Romanian crewmember. The U.S. military and London-based manager Zodiac Maritime have indicated that the attack was a drone strike. 

The Mercer Street departed Dar es Salaam, Tanzania on July 19. There was no cargo aboard, and the vessel was due to arrive at the oil terminal in Fujairah, UAE on July 31. The tanker was sailing off the coast of Oman in the northern Indian Ocean at the time of the attack, and the UKMTO reported that the vessel's position was about 150 nautical miles northeast of Duqm, Oman. She is now under way under her own power, accompanied by a U.S. naval escort, according to Zodiac Maritime.

UK, U.S. and Israeli officials have suggested that there is a high likelihood of Iranian involvement, but Tehran vehemently denies responsibility. "The officials of the Zionist regime [Israel] should know that they cannot cure their pains with such blame games,” Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said at a press conference Sunday.

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has made clear that Iran should expect retaliation.

"The intelligence evidence for [Iranian involvement] exists and we expect the international community will make it clear to the Iranian regime that they have made a serious mistake," Bennett said at a weekly meeting. "In any case, we know how to send a message to Iran in our own way."

The United States has also promised an "appropriate response." 

The 49,000 dwt product tanker is owned by a Japanese company and managed by a London-based firm, which happens to be controlled by Israeli businessman and shipping magnate Eyal Ofer. It is not the first time that vessels linked to Ofer have been hit in a suspected Iranian attack: In early July, an Iran-affiliated outlet reported an attack on the boxship CSAV Tyndall, a vessel previously owned by Ofer. According to Israeli media, the vessel was struck by an unknown weapon while under way in the Indian Ocean. The ship may have been hit by a missile, according to Israeli outlet N12.

Israel is also widely believed to be responsible for a series of attacks on Iranian tankers, conducting strikes on at least a dozen vessels since 2019, according to the Wall Street Journal.