190613 oil tanker oman
Illustrative image. A file picture of smoke billowing from a tanker said to have been attacked off the coast of Oman. Image Credit: AFP file

DUBAI: An oil tanker off the coast of Oman has been struck by a bomb-carrying drone amid heightened tensions with Iran, an official told The Associated Press on Wednesday.

The attack happened on Tuesday night off the coast of Oman, the Mideast-based defence official said. The official spoke on condition of anonymity as they did not have authorisation to discuss the attack publicly.

The United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations, a British military organisation 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.

The Singapore-based firm said it was investigating the incident which took place approximately 150 miles off the coast of Oman. "All crew are safe and accounted for," it said.

"Preliminary reports indicate the vessel...was hit by a projectile," Eastern Pacific Shipping said. "There is some minor damage to the vessel's hull but no spillage of cargo or water ingress." The US Navy's Fifth Fleet earlier told Reuters it is aware of an incident in the Gulf of Oman involving a commercial vessel. Commander Timothy Hawkins gave no further details.

While no one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, suspicion immediately fell on Iran. Tehran and Israel have been engaged in a yearslong shadow war in the wider Middle East, with some drone attacks targeting Israeli-associated vessels travelling 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 programme following the US’s unilateral withdraw from its atomic deal with world powers.

Iranian state media did not immediately acknowledge the attack on the Pacific Zircon.