Middle EastOperations

Drone sightings in Middle Eastern waters spark concern

Britain’s maritime agency said a drone circled a ship in the Gulf of Oman on Friday, three days after an Iranian-made drone attacked a tanker in the region.

The Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO), which is part of the Royal Navy, said the incident took place about 50 miles southwest of Muscat. The vessel and crew were reported to be safe. It did not specify what kind of vessel was involved.

The US said Iran was behind last week’s attack on Eastern Pacific Shipping’s product tanker Pacific Zircon (pictured).

The Singapore-based company run by Idan Ofer said the vessel, carrying a cargo of gas oil, was hit by a projectile in international waters some 150 miles off Oman at about 15.30 hrs on Tuesday. All crew were reported safe, while the ship’s stern suffered some minor damage.

“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,” US national security adviser Jake Sullivan said, referring to an unmanned aerial vehicle, or drone.

The US Central Command said the attack was carried out by an Iranian-made drone.

“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.”

Although no one has claimed responsibility for the attack, Iran has been singled out for suspicion. Last year a product tanker called Mercer Street, operated by Eyal Ofer’s Zodiac Maritime, was attacked by drones off the coast of Oman in the Arabian Sea. An investigation led by the US Central Command showed that Iran was behind the operation which resulted in the deaths of two crewmembers.

Sam Chambers

Starting out with the Informa Group in 2000 in Hong Kong, Sam Chambers became editor of Maritime Asia magazine as well as East Asia Editor for the world’s oldest newspaper, Lloyd’s List. In 2005 he pursued a freelance career and wrote for a variety of titles including taking on the role of Asia Editor at Seatrade magazine and China correspondent for Supply Chain Asia. His work has also appeared in The Economist, The New York Times, The Sunday Times and The International Herald Tribune.
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