US says Israeli-linked Pacific Zircon tanker attacked by Iranian drone

Central Command says multinational force responded to strike on commercial vessel

The Pacific Zircon was in international waters off the coast of Oman. Photo: David Potter
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The US government has condemned an attack on an oil tanker off the coast of Oman, saying Iran used one of its explosive drones to hit the vessel.

The vessel's owner had previously confirmed the drone attack to The National on Wednesday.

US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said the US condemned “in the strongest possible terms the November 15 attack against a commercial tanker, the MV Pacific Zircon, that was transiting in international waters off the coast of Oman”.

“Upon review of the available information, we are confident that Iran likely conducted this attack using a UAV, a lethal capability it is increasingly employing directly and via its proxies throughout the Middle East and proliferating to Russia for use in Ukraine,” he said, referring to an unmanned aerial vehicle, or drone.

“There is no justification for this attack, which is the latest in a pattern of such actions and broader destabilising activities.”

On Thursday, the US Central Command confirmed that the attack was carried out by an Iranian-made drone. It said a multilateral maritime operation led by a British Royal Navy frigate had responded.

“An Iranian-made unmanned aerial vehicle conducted a one-way attack against the Pacific Zircon,” the command said.

General Michael Kurilla, commander of US Central Command, said: “This unmanned aerial vehicle attack against a civilian vessel in this critical maritime strait demonstrates, once again, the destabilising nature of Iranian malign activity in the region.”

Singapore-based Eastern Pacific Shipping, owned by Israeli billionaire Idan Ofer, said that the Pacific Zircon was “hit by a projectile” about 240km off the coast of Oman while transporting a cargo of gas oil.

The company said the incident occurred on Tuesday afternoon.

“We are in communication with the vessel and there is no report 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. Our priorities are to ensure the continuing safety of the crew and vessel.”

The US Navy's Fifth Fleet told Reuters earlier that it was aware of an incident in the Gulf of Oman involving a commercial vessel. The UK Maritime Trade Operations, a British military organisation in the region that monitors shipping, also confirmed they were aware of an attack.

“We are aware of an incident and it’s being investigated at this time,” they said. A post on their website said the “vessel and crew are safe”.

Brent crude rose by about $2 per barrel on news of the attack but later dropped to trade at around $94 a barrel.

Two Israeli officials told Reuters that they believed Iran was behind the attack but Iran pointed the finger of blame back.

Iran's hardline semi-official Nournews said Israel was to blame as part of “regional competitions and the cabinet formation crisis in Israel” and as a distraction ahead of the Fifa World Cup, which starts in Qatar on Sunday.

Ship tracking data last showed the vessel off the coast of Liwa, Oman, on Monday morning. It departed Sohar, Oman on Monday afternoon and was heading for Buenos Aires in Argentina.

Eastern Pacific Shipping list the Pacific Zircon as a tanker built in 2013 with a deadweight tonnage of 50,000 and a draft of 12m.

Updated: November 17, 2022, 5:25 AM