Tanker off India coast hit by attack drone ‘fired from Iran,’ Pentagon says

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A Japanese-owned chemical tanker struck Saturday off the coast of India was targeted by a drone “fired from Iran,” the Pentagon said, a sign of expanding risks to commercial shipping beyond the Red Sea.

It was the first time the Pentagon has openly accused Iran of directly targeting ships since the start of Israel’s war on the militant group Hamas, which is backed by Tehran.

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The attack came amid a flurry of new drone and missile attacks by Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi militia on the vital Red Sea shipping lane since the start of the Israel-Hamas war on October 7, with the group claiming to act in solidarity with Gaza.

Saturday’s Indian Ocean attack took place around 10 am local time (0600 GMT) and caused no casualties aboard the vessel, a Pentagon statement said, adding that a fire was extinguished.

The US military “remains in communication with the vessel as it continues toward a destination in India,” it added.

The drone strike occurred 200 nautical miles (370 kilometers) off the coast of India, it said, adding that no US Navy vessels were in the vicinity.

The Pentagon statement said the MV Chem Pluto ship flew under a Liberian flag and was operated by a Dutch entity, although the ship is owned by a Japanese company.

Ambrey, a maritime security firm, said the “chemical/products tanker... was Israel-affiliated" and had been on its way from Saudi Arabia to India.

The Wall Street Journal reported that the Dutch company operating the MV Chem Pluto “is connected to Israeli shipping tycoon Idan Ofer.”

The Indian navy said it had responded to a request for assistance.

“An aircraft was dispatched and it reached overhead the vessel and established safety of the involved ship and its crew,” a navy official told AFP.

“An Indian navy warship has also been dispatched so as to provide assistance as required.”

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the strike.

Last month, an Israeli-owned cargo ship was hit in a suspected drone attack by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in the Indian Ocean, according to a US official.

The Malta-flagged vessel managed by an Israeli-affiliated company was reportedly damaged when the unmanned aerial vehicle exploded close to it, according to Ambrey.

US warship targeted

Separately, US warship the Laboon shot down four attack drones “originating from Houthi-controlled areas in Yemen” on Saturday, the Pentagon’s Central Command (Centcom) said in a post on X, formerly Twitter, adding that no injuries or damage were reported.

An attack drone also came close to a Norwegian-flagged tanker, MV Blaamanen, it said, while another tanker, the Indian-flagged MV Saibaba, was “hit by a one-way attack drone with no injuries reported.”

Centcom, meanwhile, said Houthi militia fired two antiship ballistic missiles into Red Sea shipping lanes Saturday with “no ships reported being impacted.”

“These attacks represent the 14th and 15th attacks on commercial shipping by Houthi militants since Oct. 17,” Centcom said.

The Red Sea attacks on shipping since the start of the Israel-Hamas war have prompted major firms to reroute their cargo vessels around the southern tip of Africa, despite the higher fuel costs of much longer voyages.

On Saturday, an official in Iran’s Revolutionary Guard warned of the forced closure of other waterways unless Israel halted its war with Hamas.

“With the continuation of these crimes, America and its allies should expect the emergence of new resistance forces and the closure of other waterways,” Mohammad Reza Naqdi said, quoted by Iran’s Tasnim news agency.

Among the waterways he mentioned was the Mediterranean Sea. He did not elaborate.

With AFP

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