Two crew members of a Japanese-owned oil tanker have died in a suspected piracy incident off the coast of Oman, the UK office of the Israeli-owned company that manages the vessel said Friday.
“With profound sadness, we understand the incident onboard the M/T Mercer Street on 29 July, 2021 has resulted in the deaths of two crew members onboard: a Romanian national and a UK national,” Zodiac Maritime wrote on its Twitter page.
“We are not aware of harm to any other personnel,” it added.
The vessel was in the northern Indian Ocean, travelling from Dar es Salaam to Fujairah with no cargo onboard, when the attack occurred, said the company, adding it was “a suspected piracy incident”.
Britain’s military said earlier Friday that it was investigating reports that an oil tanker managed by an Israeli billionaire’s company had been attacked in the Arabian Sea.
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“We are aware of reports of an attack on a merchant vessel off the coast of Oman,” the Ministry of Defence in London said in a short statement.
“UK military headquarters in the region are currently conducting investigations.”
The United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) — an anti-piracy taskforce run by the Royal Navy — issued a report of “a vessel being attacked” around 152 nautical miles (280 kilometres) off the coast of Oman.
– ‘Shadow war’ –
Zodiac Maritime is part of the Zodiac Group, owned by Israeli businessman Eyal Ofer, whose enterprises span shipping, real estate, technology, banking and investments.
Ofer was ranked the world’s 197th richest person by Forbes this year, with a fortune of $11.3 billion. His firms own and operate over 160 ships.
The Arabian Sea and surrounding Indian Ocean were plagued by piracy around a decade ago, but incidents have waned in recent years after foreign navies stepped up patrols.
Maritime industry analysts Dryad Global said the attack bore the hallmarks of previous incidents against vessels associated with Israel and Iran.
Two ships operated by Israeli firm Ray Shipping were attacked earlier this year.
“The attack on the MT Mercer Street is now assessed to be the fifth attack against a vessel connected to Israel,” Dryad said in an email note on the incident.
It described the attack as part of the “ongoing tit-for-tat exchange” in the “shadow war between the two powers.
But it said before the deaths were confirmed that the loss of two personnel “would represent a significant escalation in events that… would likely lead to significant international condemnation and would require diplomatic redress”.
It advised clients that the risk to commercial vessels associated with Israel and Iran in the Gulf waterway was “heightened”.
“Such incidents remain irregular and are highly unlikely to impact normal commercial operations throughout the region,” it added.