US Navy says drone strike hit oil tanker off Oman, killing two

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES (AP) – United States (US) Navy explosive experts believe a “drone strike” targetted an oil tanker that came under attack off the coast of Oman in the Arabian Sea, killing two on board, the American military said yesterday.

The strike on Thursday night on the oil tanker Mercer Street marks 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.

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 Mideast-based 5th Fleet said in a statement early yesterday

“US 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,” the fifth Fleet said.

“Initial indications clearly point to a (drone)-style attack.”

The fifth Fleet statement did not explain how it determined a drone caused the damage, although it described its explosive experts finding “clear visual evidence that an attack had occurred” aboard the Mercer Street. The US military’s Central Command did not immediately respond to a questions on the evidence.

The drone attack blasted a hole through the top of the oil tanker’s bridge, where the captain and crew command the vessel, a US official said.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity as an investigation into the attack still was ongoing.

The Mercer Street is managed by London-based Zodiac Maritime, part of Israeli billionaire Eyal Ofer’s Zodiac Group.

The firm said the attack killed two crew members, one from the United Kingdom and the other from Romania.

It did not name them, nor did it describe what happened in the assault. It said it believed no other crew members on board were harmed. British maritime security firm Ambrey said the attack on Mercer Street had killed one of its team members on board the vessel.

The Mercer Street, empty of cargo, had been on its way from Dar es Salaam, Tanzania; to Fujairah, United Arab Emirates; at the time of the attack, Zodiac Maritime said. The attack targetted the tanker just northeast of the Omani island of Masirah.