A sailor from the guided-missile destroyer The Sullivans (DDG 68) shoots a shot line during a replenishment-at-sea with dry cargo and ammunition ship Matthew Perry (T-AKE 9) in the Gulf of Aden, on Nov. 6, 2022. Deployed to the US 5th Fleet area of operations to help ensure maritime security and stability in the Middle East region, the destroyer sailed on Nov. 15 to aid the Liberian-flagged oil tanker Pacific Zircon, which US officials said was struck by an Iranian aerial drone. US Navy photo by Sonar Technician (Surface) 1st Class Kevin Frus.
In an escalating series of charges from the White House, US Central Command, and Israel, officials accuse Iran of using an aerial drone to attack the oil tanker Pacific Zircon in the Northern Arabian Sea.
Inside the White House, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan released a statement condemning “in the strongest possible terms” the Nov. 15 assault on the Liberian-flagged tanker.
At 10 p.m. local time Tuesday, the Pacific Zircon was sailing international waters roughly 130 nautical miles off Oman when it was hit by what CENTCOM said was a "Shahed-series one-way attack drone."
“Upon review of the available information, we are confident that Iran likely conducted this attack using a UAV, a lethal capability it is increasingly employing directly and via its proxies throughout the Middle East and proliferating to Russia for use in Ukraine,” Sullivan said. “There is no justification for this attack, which is the latest in a pattern of such actions and broader destabilizing activities. This action further threatens freedom of navigation through this crucial waterway, international shipping and commerce, and the lives of those on the vessels involved.”
Sailors on board the guided-missile destroyer The Sullivans man the .50-caliber machine gun while the ship transits the Bab al-Mandeb, Nov. 4, 2022. The Sullivans is deployed to the US 5th Fleet area of operations to help ensure maritime security and stability in the Middle East region. US Navy photo by Lt. j.g. Kelly Harris.
CENTCOM reported that while the vessel sustained damage from the explosion, no Pacific Zircon crew members suffered injuries.
The attack sparked an operation by British and US warships and aircraft to protect the vessel from further attacks.
CENTCOM reported that the Royal Navy’s guided-missile frigate Lancaster arrived first, but was soon joined by the US Navy’s guided-missile destroyer The Sullivans, patrol coastal ship Chinook, and a Poseidon P-8 reconnaissance jet.
“This unmanned aerial vehicle attack against a civilian vessel in this critical maritime strait demonstrates, once again, the destabilizing nature of Iranian malign activity in the region,” said Army Gen. Michael “Erik” Kurilla, CENTCOM’s commander.
Tehran hasn’t claimed responsibility for the attack, and most of Iran’s state-controlled media have remained mum about the incident, except to note that the oil tanker was operated by Eastern Pacific Shipping, a Singapore company controlled by Israeli billionaire Idan Ofer.
Iran's goalkeeper Alireza Beiranvand attends a training session in the capital Tehran on Nov. 13, 2022, ahead of the Qatar 2022 FIFA World Cup football tournament. Photo by Atta Kenare/AFP via Getty Images.
According to Lloyd’s List Intelligence, the tanker is actually owned by Japan’s Taihei Kaiun Co.
“This is another event that proves that Iran acts as a global exporter of terrorism. This is another time that Iran is harming global freedom of navigation,” Israeli officials told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday. “Iran undermines security in the Gulf and, along the way, undermines stability during the World Cup.”
The soccer tournament kicks off Sunday in Oman.
Iranian state-controlled Nour News Agency took to the social media site Twitter to propose a weird conspiracy theory, claiming that unspecified Middle Eastern rivalries and a “cabinet formation crisis in Israel, have activated Hebrew-Arab axis to attack the oil tanker in the North Arabian Sea to involve Qatar and Iran simultaneously with the help of media atmosphere.”
Editor's note: This story was updated on Nov. 22, 2022, to reflect that US officials now say the commercial vessel was attacked in northern waters of the Arabian Sea.
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.
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