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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 22 January 2021

Iraq confirms limpet mine found on oil tanker in waters off Basra

Explosives team sent to defuse device attached to vessel owned by US-traded company

An Iraqi navy stands guard while an oil tanker loads crude oil at the Al Basra offshore terminal. AP Photo
An Iraqi navy stands guard while an oil tanker loads crude oil at the Al Basra offshore terminal. AP Photo

An Iraqi explosives team was working on Friday to neutralise a “large” mine discovered on an oil tanker in the Arabian Gulf and evacuate its crew, security forces said.

The mine had been attached to a tanker leased by Iraq’s State Oil Marketing Company that was refuelling another vessel. Iraq’s naval forces were making “a great effort to accomplish the mission” safely, said Iraq's Security Media Cell.

It was the first official confirmation that a mine was discovered on an tanker transferring fuel to another vessel in the waters off Iraq. The media cell did not identify either vessel or provide more details.

Two private security firms said on Thursday that sailors reported seeing what they suspected to be a limpet mine on the MT Pola, a Liberian-flagged tanker owned by a shipping company traded in the US. A limpet mine is a type of naval mine that attaches to the side of a ship, usually by a diver, and can significantly damage a vessel when it detonates.

The Pola serves as floating fuel oil storage for Iraq’s State Organisation of Marketing of Oil, said Sudharsan Sarathy, a senior oil analyst at the data-analysis firm Refinitiv. Smaller vessels carry the fuel oil to the ship, which then conducts ship-to-ship transfers to clients.

Mr Sarathy said the Pola was transferring fuel oil to the MT Nordic Freedom, a Bermuda-flagged tanker, at the time the mine was discovered.

The Security Media Cell said an explosives-handling team from the interior ministry was flown to the ship 28 nautical miles from Iraqi oil ports.

Despite high waves, the vessel receiving the fuel was evacuated while the Iraqi team was still working on neutralising the mine and evacuating the refuelling ship, it said.

The discovery of the mine comes amid heightened tensions between Iran and the US in the waning days of President Donald Trump’s administration. US officials have warned of the possibility of Iranian attacks on the one-year anniversary of the US drone strike in Baghdad that killed a top Iranian general and a top Iraqi militia leader on January 3.

In 2019, the US blamed Iran for a series of limpet mine attacks on oil tankers near the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow mouth of the Arabian Gulf through which 20 per cent of all the world’s oil passes. Iran denied being involved.

Published: January 1, 2021 06:08 PM

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