DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — An oil tanker linked to an Israeli billionaire reportedly came under attack off the coast of Oman in the Arabian Sea, authorities said Friday, an assault that killed two crew members.
The attack Thursday night targeted Liberian-flagged oil tanker Mercer Street just northeast of the Omani island of Masirah. The location is over 300 kilometers (185 miles) southeast of Oman’s capital, Muscat.
Israeli officials did not immediately acknowledge the attack, but it comes amid heightened tensions between it and Iran as negotiations remain stalled over Tehran's nuclear deal with world powers.
Other Israel-linked ships have been targeted in recent months as well amid a shadow war between the two nations, with Israeli officials blaming the Islamic Republic for the assaults. Israel meanwhile has been suspected in a series of major attacks targeting Iran's nuclear program.
London-based Zodiac Maritime, part of Israeli billionaire Eyal Ofer's Zodiac Group, issued a statement saying the ship was the Liberian-flagged oil tanker Mercer Street and was Japanese owned. The British Defense Ministry earlier misidentified the ship's owners.
Zodiac Maritime described the attack as “piracy,” without elaborating. It later said the attack killed two crew members, one from the United Kingdom and another from Romania. It said the company was “not aware of harm to any other personnel.”
“At the time of the incident the vessel was in the northern Indian Ocean, traveling from Dar es Salaam to Fujairah with no cargo onboard,” the statement from Zodiac Maritime said, naming ports in Tanzania and the United Arab Emirates respectively.
Satellite tracking data from MarineTraffic.com showed the vessel had been near where British officials said the attack occurred. However, the last signal the ship sent came early Friday morning.
An brief initial statement from the British military’s United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations said an investigation was underway into the incident, which it described as happening late Thursday night.
The statement did not elaborate, other to say that it suspected the attack did not involve piracy. Earlier on Thursday, the British military group had said it was investigating another unexplained incident in the same area, but it did not elaborate.
Oman did not acknowledge an attack and officials there did not respond to requests for comment. The U.S. Navy's 5th Fleet, which patrols the Mideast, did not respond to a request for comment.
The incident comes amid heightened tensions over Iran's tattered nuclear deal and as negotiations over restoring the accord have stalled in Vienna. Since then-President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew America from the accord in 2018, there have been a series of ship attacks in the region suspected to have been carried out by Tehran.
Iranian media quoted foreign reports on the attack, but did not elaborate. The attack came the night after U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, speaking from Kuwait, warned Iran that talks in Vienna over the nuclear deal "cannot go on indefinitely.”
This is the second time this month a ship tied to Ofer apparently has been targeted. In early July, the Liberian-flagged container ship CSAV Tyndall, once tied to Zodiac Maritime, suffered an unexplained explosion on board while in the northern Indian Ocean, according to the U.S. Maritime Administration.