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Drones attack oil tankers linked to Israel; Iran frees 2 Greek oil tankers


DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — An Israeli billionaire’s oil tanker was hit by a bomb-carrying drone off the coast of Oman amid rising tensions with Iran, officials said on Wednesday. Meanwhile, Greece said Iran has freed two Greek oil tankers held by Tehran since May.

The drone attack on the Liberian-flagged Pacific Zircon tanker happened Tuesday night off the coast of Oman, a defense official based in the Middle East told The Associated Press. The official was not authorized to discuss the attack publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Pacific Zircon is operated by Singapore-based East Pacific Shipping Company, which is ultimately owned by Israeli billionaire Idan Ofer.

In a statement, Eastern Pacific Shipping said the Pacific Zircon, carrying oil and gas, was “hit by bullets” about 150 miles (240 km) off the coast of Oman.

“We are in contact with the ship and there are no reports of injuries or contamination. All crew are safe and accounted for, the company said. “There was some minor damage to the hull but no spilled cargo or water ingress.”

An Israeli official, who spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity to discuss the yet-to-be-publicized details of the attack, said it appeared Iran carried out the drone strike. Shahed-136 explodes. Iran supplied those drones to Russia, which is using them to target infrastructure and civilian targets in Ukraine.

“It was an Iranian attack, there is consensus on this in the Israeli defense and intelligence community,” the official said.

The Iranian government does not acknowledge the attack on the Pacific Zircon. Iran’s mission to the United Nations did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The attack comes hours after the US Navy announced it had found 70 tons of rocket fuel ingredients hidden in bags of fertilizer on a ship bound for Yemen from Iran, a potentially large seizure. potentially disrupting the Iran-backed Houthis’ ballistic missile program there.

Oil prices rose slightly as news of the attack spread, with benchmark Brent crude trading above $94 a barrel.

Late Wednesday, Greek officials said two of the Greek tankers – the Delta Poseidon and the Prudent Warrior – had been freed along with their sailors.

Tracking data from MarineTraffic.com shows the ships are leaving the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas, where they have been detained since May after being captured by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards during a helicopter raid. promoted.

Their arrest came after Greece assisted the United States in seizing oil a few days earlier from the Iranian-flagged Lana tanker.

“Today is a very pleasant day for our sailors, as well as for Greece in general, because an unpleasant and particularly complex case has come to an end, following the systematic efforts of Greek government,” Greek Maritime Minister Giannis Plakiotakis said in a statement.

Tehran did not immediately acknowledge the release of the vessel. Both ships appear to be heading for the United Arab Emirates.

While no one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack off the coast of Oman, suspicion immediately fell on Iran. Tehran and Israel have been engaged in a years-long underground war in the wider Middle East, with several drone strikes targeting Israeli-linked ships sailing around the region.

The US also blamed Iran for a series of attacks that occurred off the coast of the United Arab Emirates in 2019. Tehran at the time had begun to escalate its nuclear program after the US unilaterally withdrew. Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers.

In 2021, a suspected Iranian drone strike hit the Israeli-linked Mercer Street oil tanker off the coast of Oman, killing two people on board.

It was not immediately clear where the ship was as of Wednesday. Satellite tracking data from late Tuesday provided by MarineTraffic.com took the ship deep into the Arabian Sea after leaving the Omani port of Sohar.

Since the collapse of the Iran nuclear deal, non-proliferation experts warn the Islamic Republic now has enough enriched uranium to make at least one nuclear weapon if it chooses, despite although Tehran insists its program is for peaceful purposes.

Iran has also lashed out at its alleged enemies abroad amid months-long nationwide protests now challenging its theocracy.

Torbjorn Soltvedt, an analyst at risk intelligence firm Verisk Maplecroft, said the attack was “not surprising”.

“The threat of attacks against energy and transportation infrastructure in the broader region is increasing primarily due to the lack of progress in US-Iran nuclear diplomacy and Washington’s decision to further apply,” he said. sanctions pressure on Iran. “Since 2019, Iran has consistently responded to new US sanctions with covert military action in the region.”

“Not only is there a growing risk of disruptive attacks on energy infrastructure in the region, but there is also a growing risk of a broader military confrontation,” he added. with more serious consequences for world energy markets”.

The tanker attack also occurred just days before the FIFA World Cup in Qatar. While Doha maintains good relations with Tehran, which shares a huge offshore natural gas field, the Israelis will attend the tournament. Iran’s national team will also face England and the US in the first matches, two nations it accuses of inciting unrest in Iran.

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Associated Press writers Tia Goldenberg and Ilan Ben Zion in Jerusalem and Elena Becatoros in Athens, Greece, contributed to this report.

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Follow Jon Gambrell on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jongambrellAP.

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