The drone that caused a deadly explosion aboard an Israeli-managed oil tanker had a range and technical characteristics that strongly point to Iran as the culprit, U.S. experts said Friday.
The oil tanker Mercer Street was passing through international waters off the coast of Oman on July 30 when an explosion ripped through the pilothouse, killing the ship’s Romanian captain and a British subject who was part of the security detail. The blast created a 6-foot diameter hole in the tanker’s control room and heavily damaged the interior, said officials with U.S. Central Command.
A Navy explosives investigation team from the USS Ronald Reagan found evidence of a drone, or unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), loaded with the military-grade explosive RDX when they went aboard the Mercer Street. They located part of a wing and internal components that were identical to earlier UAVs from Iran.
“The distance from the Iranian coast to the locations of the attacks was within the range of documented Iranian one-way attack UAVs,” officials with U.S. Central Command said in a statement.
Explosive experts from Great Britain and Israel were provided access to the evidence of the Mercer Street blast and concurred with the U.S. findings, U.S. Central Command said.
“The UAV had been rigged to cause injury and destruction,” U.S. Central Command officials said.
Iranian officials have denied any role in the attack, which could mark a significant escalation in the shadow war between regional archrivals Israel and Iran.
Foreign ministers from the Group of Seven nations — including the U.S. — have condemned the attack on the oil tanker and pointed the finger of responsibility at Iran.
“This was a deliberate and targeted attack and a clear violation of international law. All available evidence clearly points to Iran,” the G-7 statement said. “Iran’s behavior, alongside its support to proxy forces and non-state armed actors, threatens international peace and security.”
The spokesman for Iran’s foreign ministry said he was suspicious of any explanation coming from the U.S. and the U.K. about what happened to the Mercer Street.
“Having kept silent about repeated terrorist attacks on Iranian ships, they now baselessly accuse Iran,” spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said in a Twitter message. “Any anti-Iran adventurism will receive an immediate and decisive response.”