US Navy Forensic Investigators: Iran Drone Blasted Tanker

November 22, 2022Carl Prine
 forensic investigators Iranian drone

Forensic investigators from a US Navy laboratory in Manama, Bahrain, have concluded that an Iranian-made unmanned aerial vehicle penetrated the commercial oil tanker Pacific Zircon’s outer hull during an attack on Nov. 15, 2022. The one-way UAV tore a 30-inch-wide hole in the outer hull on the starboard side of the ship’s stern, just below the main deck. Coffee or Die Magazine composite.

US Navy forensic investigators in Bahrain have concluded that last week’s aerial drone attack on the commercial oil tanker Pacific Zircon was orchestrated by Iran, officials told Coffee or Die Magazine.

It was a Shahed-136 drone that Iranian manufacturers have supplied to Russia for Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, US 5th Fleet spokesperson Cmdr. Timothy A. Hawkins said Tuesday, Nov. 22.

Packed with explosives, the drone slammed into the Liberian-flagged vessel while it was sailing the Northern Arabian Sea about two hours after dusk on Nov. 15, ripping a hole 30 inches wide in the outer hull on the starboard side of the ship's stern, just below the main deck.

The blast damaged internal compartments, a boiler, a potable water tank, and a life raft, but the vessel's crew escaped injury, according to US 5th Fleet.

“The Iranian attack on a commercial tanker transiting international waters was deliberate, flagrant and dangerous, endangering the lives of the ship’s crew and destabilizing maritime security in the Middle East,” said Vice Adm. Brad Cooper, commander of US Naval Forces Central Command and the 5th Fleet, in a prepared statement emailed to Coffee or Die

 forensic investigators

Images captured Nov. 16, 2022, by a US Navy explosive ordnance disposal team on board the commercial oil tanker Pacific Zircon, reveal shipboard damage from a one-way unmanned aerial vehicle attack on the prior day. An attached explosive detonated during the attack, causing a blast pattern that sprayed UAV fragments into internal compartments and damaged a boiler and potable water tank. US forensic investigators determined that Iran was tied to the attack. US Navy photos.

Iran has denied involvement in the attack. Tehran has also provided the drones to Houthi rebels battling an invasion of Yemen led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Shortly after the explosion, the British guided-missile frigate Lancaster sped to protect the Pacific Zircon. It was soon joined by the US Navy’s guided-missile destroyer The Sullivans, the patrol coastal ship Chinook, and a P-8 Poseidon maritime reconnaissance plane.

Navy officials said they began to solve the explosive whodunit on Nov. 16, a day after the attack. A pair of US Navy explosive ordnance technicians boarded the Pacific Zircon to chart the strike damage and spent two hours collecting evidence, including debris damage that appeared to come from an unmanned aerial vehicle and blast residue samples.

The material was brought to a lab at 5th Fleet’s headquarters in Manama, where forensic investigators concluded it was one of Iran’s drones, according to the Navy.

 forensic investigators

An image taken Nov. 20, 2022, in Manama, Bahrain, shows debris fragments collected from what US Navy forensic investigators say is an Iranian-made Shahed-136 unmanned aerial vehicle that struck the commercial oil tanker Pacific Zircon five days earlier. US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Mark Thomas Mahmod.

On Tuesday, Rear Adm. Shahram Irani, commander of Iran’s naval forces, announced that his fleet would soon unveil new helicopters and long-range UAVs capable of attacking shipping more than 1,000 nautical miles away.

“In the next few months, we plan to conduct joint exercises in the northern tip of the Indian Ocean with the participation of countries with which we have signed bilateral or multilateral agreements,” Irani told reporters at a Tehran press conference, according to state media.

Irani said a special unit that transports and operates drones has been attached to his southern fleet since July and is capable of conducting surveillance and carrying out attacks at sea.

Editor's Note: This article was updated to clarify that this wasn't the first use of the drone against commercial targets in the Middle East.

Read Next: A Tanker Was Unloading Jet Fuel, Then Came the Explosion

Carl Prine
Carl Prine

Carl Prine is a former senior editor at Coffee or Die Magazine. He has worked at Navy Times, The San Diego Union-Tribune, and Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. He served in the Marine Corps and the Pennsylvania Army National Guard. His awards include the Joseph Galloway Award for Distinguished Reporting on the military, a first prize from Investigative Reporters & Editors, and the Combat Infantryman Badge.

More from Coffee or Die Magazine
How the Bazooka Gained Infamy as a Tank-Buster

Named after a musical instrument, the Bazooka proved to be a highly effective weapon for American troops, including one maverick pilot, throughout multiple wars.

Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall (center) delivers testimony during a House Appropriations Committee hearing in the Capitol Building, Washington, D.C.
Home to Glenn, Armstrong, Wrights Perfect Spot for Space Command HQ, Ohio Lawmakers Say

Ohio lawmakers pitch their state as the new location for Space Command headquarters.

Soflete: How This Veteran-Led Company is Changing Military Fitness Culture

In 2014, Soflete’s co-founders saw workout overkill hurting their peers as they prepared for selecti...

glock 19
Glock 19: Origin Story of a Legendary Pistol

Get to know the Glock 19 — how it works, who uses it, and why it’s one of the most popular handguns in the US.

afghan soldier asylum
Afghan Soldier Who Helped US Weathers Injuries, Uncertainty in Asylum Bid

Afghan soldier who assisted the U.S. now faces uncertainty in bid for asylum.

The Dirty Dozen
‘The Dirty Dozen’: Meet D-Day’s Real Rogue Commandos

The Dirty Dozen was based on a real team of rule-breaking elite paratroopers who jumped into France ahead of D-Day.

d-day 79th anniversary
Normandy Marks D-Day's 79th Anniversary, Honors World War II Veterans

This year's D-Day tribute to the young soldiers who died in Normandy is not only a chance to honor t...

  • About Us
  • Privacy Policy
  • Careers
Contact Us
  • Request a Correction
  • Write for Us
  • General Inquiries
© 2023 Coffee or Die Magazine. All Rights Reserved