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
Dear Jack: I'm Retiring From The Military — Help!

In this installment of “Dear Jack,” Marine veteran Jack Mandaville helps a career service member figure out life after retirement.

March 31, 2023Jack Mandaville
navy chaplains suicide prevention
US Navy Deploys More Chaplains For Suicide Prevention

Growing mental health distress in the ranks carries such grave implications that the U.S. chief of n...

March 31, 2023Associated Press
ukraine lessons learned
Opinion & Essay
Nolan Peterson: Lessons From Russia's Invasion of Ukraine

After living in and reporting from Ukraine the last nine years, conflict journalist Nolan Peterson h...

March 30, 2023Nolan Peterson
black hawk crash kentucky
9 Killed In Army Black Hawk Helicopter Crash In Kentucky

Nondice Thurman, a spokesperson for Fort Campbell, said Thursday morning that the deaths happened the previous night in southwestern Kentucky during a routine training mission.

March 30, 2023Associated Press
richard stayskal act military medical malpractice
DOD Denies Most Stayskal Act Malpractice Claims

Master Sgt. Richard Stayskal was diagnosed with lung cancer long after military doctors missed a tum...

March 29, 2023Maggie BenZvi
ukrainian wounded soldiers
‘On Tour In Hell’: Wounded Ukrainian Soldiers Evacuated

With bandaged heads and splinted limbs, the wounded soldiers are stretchered into the waiting medica...

March 27, 2023Associated Press
US oil mission
US Launches Airstrikes in Syria After Drone Kills US Worker

While it’s not the first time the U.S. and Iran have traded airstrikes in Syria, the attack and the ...

March 24, 2023Associated Press
The Gift jason dunham
‘The Gift’ Explores the Life and Legacy of Medal of Honor Recipient Jason Dunham

"The Gift" tells the story of the first Marine to receive the Medal of Honor after the Vietnam War. ...

March 24, 2023Mac Caltrider
  • About Us
  • Privacy Policy
  • Careers
Contact Us
  • Request a Correction
  • Write for Us
  • General Inquiries
© 2023 Coffee or Die Magazine. All Rights Reserved