Fears for global shipping after vessel attacked off Indian coast

US military says drone that hit tanker on Saturday was launched from Iran

A drone originating from Iran struck a chemical tanker owned by Japan off the Indian coast, the US military said. Iranian Army / EPA
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A chemical tanker was hit about 400km off the Indian coast in a drone attack launched from Iran, raising fears that attacks on commercial ships over Israel’s war in Gaza may spread beyond the Red Sea.

Repeated drone and missile attacks by Yemen’s Iran-allied Houthi rebels on vessels sailing past its coast have already disrupted a vital maritime route and prompted the formation of a US-led coalition to counter the threat.

The US military said the Japanese-owned MV Chem Pluto was hit by a drone “fired from Iran” at about 10am local time about 370km off India's west coast.

The Indian Coast Guard sent a ship to escort the ship after the attack, which caused a fire on board but no casualties, according to the US military.

The ship, with a crew of 20 Indians and one Vietnamese citizen, was expected to reach Mumbai on Monday, a coastguard spokesman said.

The coastguard said the tanker left Saudi Arabia on December 19 and was bound for New Mangalore port in south-west India. It was sailing under a Liberian flag and was operated by a Dutch entity, the Pentagon said.

Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian dismissed a White House accusation that Tehran was helping the Houthis to carry out their attacks as “baseless”.

“The attacks are a completely Yemeni decision in support and defence of Gaza,” Iranian media quoted him as saying.

Security and strategic affairs expert C Uday Bhaskar told The National he feared recent attacks would have a “cascading effect” on global shipping.

“The drone and rocket attacks on merchant shipping in the Red Sea area, and now off the west coast of India, are cause for concern for the global community,’’ said Mr Bhaskar, the director of the Society for Policy Studies in New Delhi.

“The disruptive impact on the global supply chain and the trade flows of major economies will be considerable.’

“This disruption will have a cascading effect and what seems like a small number of ships being rerouted via the Cape of Good Hope will steadily increase. These developments can have a negative impact on global energy and cargo movement,” he said.

“The attack on a ship bound for India is illustrative of how this malignancy can spread.’’

Updated: December 24, 2023, 3:46 PM