DUBAI: 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 on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, Greece said Iran freed two Greek oil tankers held by Tehran since May.
The drone attack on the Liberian-flagged oil tanker Pacific Zircon happened Tuesday night off the coast of Oman, one Mideast-based defence official told The Associated Press. The official was not authorized to discuss the attack publicly and spoke on 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 kilometres) off the coast of Oman.
“We are in communication with the vessel and there is 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 condition of anonymity to discuss unpublicised 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 defence 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.
The strike came hours after the US Navy announced it found 70 tonnes of a missile fuel component hidden among bags of fertiliser aboard a ship bound to Yemen from Iran, a major seizure potentially disrupting the Iranian-backed Houthis’ ballistic missile programme there.
Oil prices rose slightly as news of the attack spread, with benchmark Brent crude 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 MarineTraffic.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 from 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.
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 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 at the time had begun escalating its nuclear programme following the unilateral US withdraw from Iran’s atomic deal with world powers. In 2021, a suspected Iranian drone strike hit the Israeli-associated oil tanker Mercer Street off Oman, killing two people onboard.
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 programme is peaceful.
Iran also has been lashing out at its perceived enemies abroad amid monthslong nationwide protests now challenging its theocracy.
Torbjorn Soltvedt, an analyst at the risk intelligence company Verisk Maplecroft, said the attack ``does not come as a surprise.’’
“The risk of attacks against shipping and energy infrastructure in the wider region is rising mainly due to the lack of progress in US-Iranian nuclear diplomacy and the decision by the Washington to apply further sanctions pressure on Iran,’’ he said. “Since 2019, Iran has consistently responded to new US sanctions with covert military action in the region.’’
“There is not just an increasing risk of disruptive attacks against energy infrastructure in the region, but also a growing risk of a wider military confrontation with more serious consequences for world energy markets,” he added.