It is “highly likely” that Iran killed a British citizen in a drone attack on an oil tanker off the coast of Oman, foreign secretary Dominic Raab has said as he promised a “concerted response”.
The strike on the MV Mercer Street, on Thursday night, was the first known fatal attack after years of assaults on commercial shipping in the region linked to tensions with Iran over its tattered nuclear deal.
British maritime security firm Ambrey said the attack, which saw a hole blasted through the vessel’s bridge, killed one of its employees on board. A Romanian citizen was also killed.
Iran denied responsibility after Israel’s prime minister directly blamed it for the attack, but Mr Raab said the UK government backed Naftali Bennett’s claim.
“The UK condemns the unlawful and callous attack committed on a merchant vessel off the coast of Oman, which killed a British and a Romanian national,” Mr Raab said in a statement on Sunday afternoon.
“Our thoughts are with the friends and family of those killed in the incident.
“We believe this attack was deliberate, targeted, and a clear violation of international law by Iran.”
Mr Raab continued: “UK assessments have concluded that it is highly likely that Iran attacked the MV Mercer Street in international waters off Oman on July 29 using one or more unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).
“Iran must end such attacks, and vessels must be allowed to navigate freely in accordance with international law. The UK is working with our international partners on a concerted response to this unacceptable attack.”
The Mercer Street is managed by London-based Zodiac Maritime, part of Israeli billionaire Eyal Ofer’s Zodiac Group, and owned by Taihei Kaiun, which belongs to the Tokyo-based Nippon Yusen Group.
The Foreign Office said the drone assault followed similar attacks on three other Israeli-linked ships in the region since February.
Officials said that in the summer of 2019, Iran was also “almost certainly responsible” for attacks on two vessels in the Gulf of Oman.
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said the accusations against Iran were “baseless”.
“It’s not the first time that the Zionist regime occupying Jerusalem has made such empty accusations against the Islamic Republic of Iran,” Khatibzadeh said. “Wherever this regime has gone, it has taken instability, terror and violence with it.” He added: “Whoever sows the wind shall reap the whirlwind.”
The Mercer Street, empty of cargo, had been on its way from Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, to Fujairah in the United Arab Emirates at the time of the attack, Zodiac Maritime said.
The attack targeted the tanker just northeast of the Omani island of Masirah, 185 miles southeast of Oman’s capital Muscat.
The American nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan and the guided missile destroyer USS Mitscher were escorting the Mercer Street as it headed to a safe port, the US navy’s Middle East-based Fifth Fleet said in a statement on Saturday.
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