The Middle East tensions have escalated after an Israeli-managed oil tanker was attacked using drones off Oman coast. Two crew members were killed in the attack on the Mercer Street tanker.
The Japanese-owned ship is managed by Zodiac Maritime, the London-headquartered management company led by Israeli shipping tycoon Eyal Ofer.
Briton and Romanian Killed
The dead crew crewmembers are a Briton and a Romanian, reports said. CNN said the armed drone was "believed to be operated by Iran off the coast of Oman."
However, Iranian state media said drone attack was in retaliation for an airstrike on a military airport in Syria, which Tehran says was carried out by Israel. The claim was reported by Al Alam TV, which is Iranian government's Arabic-language television network. The report said attack on the vessel was in response an 'Israeli attack on Dabaa airport in Syria.' No details of the attack were given by the TV channel.
Yair Lapid Calls for Harsh Reponse
Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said Iran was behind the attack. "We are working together against Iranian terrorism, which poses a threat to all of us, by formulating a real and effective international response," Lapid said after talking to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.
"Iran repeatedly errs in understanding our commitment to protecting ourselves and our interests," Lapid added.
Meanwhile, the US Navy has rushed in to offer support to the Liberian-flagged, Japanese-owned vessel. The Mercer Street tanker is now being escorted by the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan and the USS Mitscher destroyer, the US Central Command said.
The shipping company said the vessel was on its own own power and was moving to safe location alongside the US battle ship.
"U.S. Navy explosives experts are aboard to ensure there is no additional danger to the crew, and are prepared to support an investigation into the attack ... Initial indications clearly point to a UAV-style (drone) attack," the Central Command said, according to Reuters.
Oman's Maritime Security Center said the incident occurred outside Omani waters, the state-owned Oman News Agency reported. The report also said Oman scrambled jets and a naval vessel to the spot of the attack.
According to the UK Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO), the vessel was about 152 nautical miles northeast of the Omani port of Duqm when the attack happened.
Drone Explodes Super Structure of the Vessel
The US defense officials confirmed that the apparent drone attack happened on Friday and that they believed Iranian armed drone was behind the attack.
The US fleet responded to an 'emergency distress call of an apparent UAV style attack,' the report added.
According to the crew of the tanker, the drone exploded into the super structure of the vessel. The attack had happened after another unsuccessful strike earlier in the day. The drone used in the first attack had fallen into the water, they said.
The oil tanker was sailing from Dar es Salaam in Tanzania to Fujariah in the United Arab Emirates, and there was no cargo onboard the ship, the reports said.