A Briton and a Romanian were killed when an Israeli-run tanker was attacked Thursday off the coast of Oman, the company said Friday, in an incident that Israel’s foreign minister attributed to Iran and said deserved a tough response.
There were varying explanations for what happened to the Mercer Street, a Liberian-flagged, Japanese-owned ship, with Israeli-owned Zodiac Maritime describing the incident as “suspected piracy” and a source at Oman’s Maritime Security Center as an accident that occurred outside Omani territorial waters.
In recent months, Iran and Israel have accused each other of attacking their ships, and Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said he had told the British foreign minister of the need for a tough response to the incident in which two crew members, one British and one Romanian, were killed.
“Iran is not just an Israeli problem, but an exporter of terrorism, destruction and instability that harms us all. The world must not remain silent in the face of Iranian terrorism that also harms freedom of navigation,” Lapid said in a statement.
U.S. and European sources familiar with the intelligence reports said Iran was their prime suspect in the incident, which a U.S. defense official said appeared to have been carried out by a drone, but stressed that their governments were seeking conclusive evidence.
Al Alam TV, the Iranian government’s Arabic-language television network, quoted unidentified sources as saying that the attack on the ship was in response to an unspecified alleged Israeli strike on the Dabaa airport in Syria.
There was no immediate official reaction from Iran to the accusation that it may have been responsible.
The Israeli news website Ynet said the assessment in Israel was that there were two attacks on the ship, spaced several hours apart. The first caused no damage and the second hit the bridge, causing the casualties.
It quoted an unidentified Israeli official as saying, “Israel will find it difficult to turn a blind eye” to the attack.
Tensions have risen in the Gulf region since the U.S. reimposed sanctions on Iran in 2018 after then-President Donald Trump withdrew Washington from the 2015 nuclear deal between Tehran and major powers.
The U.S. views the possibility of Iran obtaining nuclear weapons, an ambition Tehran denies, as a direct threat to its ally Israel.
The United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO), which provides maritime security information, said the attack was not piracy. The vessel was about 152 nautical miles (280 km) northeast of the Omani port of Duqm when it was attacked, it said.
London-based Zodiac Maritime, controlled by Israeli tycoon Eyal Ofer, whose father Sammy was Israel’s most famous shipowner, said the ship was sailing under the control of its crew and under its own power to safety with a U.S. naval escort.
According to Refinitiv’s vessel tracking system, the medium-sized tanker was heading to Fujairah, a United Arab Emirates bunkering port and oil terminal, from Dar es Salaam in Tanzania.