The oil tanker was hit off Oman in what is thought to have been a drone strike (Picture: AP/Rex)
The UK has accused Iran of killing a Briton in an ‘unlawful and callous attack’ on an oil tanker in the Middle East.
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said it is ‘highly likely’ that Iran was behind the fatal drone attack on the ship, Mercer Street, off the coast of Oman on Thursday night.
He slammed it as a ‘deliberate, targeted, and a clear violation of international law by Iran’, which killed two people who have not yet been named. One was a British national and the other, from Romania, is understood to have been the ship’s captain.
British maritime security firm Ambrey confirmed that the attack, which saw a hole blasted through the vessel’s bridge and living quarters, killed one of its employees aboard.
It is the first known fatal incident after years of assaults on commercial shipping in the region, which have been linked to tensions with Iran over its tattered nuclear deal.
Iran denied all involvement after Israel’s prime minister Naftali Bennett directly blamed Tehran for the attack, amid heightened tensions in the region and a war of words between the two nations.
Tonight, Mr Raab finally broke his silence and backed Israel’s claims, vowing to draw up a ‘concerted response’ with UK allies to the fatal incident.
He said in a statement: ‘The UK condemns the unlawful and callous attack committed on a merchant vessel off the coast of Oman, which killed a British and a Romanian national.
‘Our thoughts are with the friends and family of those killed in the incident.
The Mercer Street is managed by Israeli-owned Zodiac Maritime and was hit by a blast on the bridge (Picture: Reuters)
The tanker was struck on Thursday night off the coast of Oman (Picture: Metro.co.uk/Datawrapper)
Iranian drones in a large-scale drone combat exercise in January (Picture: Reuters)
‘We believe this attack was deliberate, targeted, and a clear violation of international law by Iran.’
‘Iran must end such attacks, and vessels must be allowed to navigate freely in accordance with international law,’ he continued.
‘The UK is working with our international partners on a concerted response to this unacceptable attack.’
Mr Raab was supported by the US’s Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, who said he was ‘confident that Iran conducted this attack’.
The Foreign Office said the drone assault followed similar attacks on three other Israeli-linked ships in the region since February.
Officials said that in the summer of 2019 Iran was also ‘almost certainly responsible’ for attacks on two vessels in the Gulf of Oman.
Tehran had been silent until foreign ministry spokesman, Saeed Khatibzadeh, branded Israel’s allegations as ‘baseless’ on Sunday.
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab’s comments blaming Iran were backed by the US’s Secretary of State Antony Blinken (left) (Picture: Tayfun Salci/Zuma Wire/Rex)
While no one has claimed responsibility for the attack, Israeli officials alleged Tehran launched the drone strike.
Iran’s Mr Khatibzadeh said: ‘Such blame games are nothing new. Those who are responsible for this (attack) are the ones who made it possible for the Israeli regime to set its foot in this region.
‘This is not strange, the well-known anti-Iran lobby in the US uses any opportunity to make… accusations against the Islamic Republic of Iran.’
The Mercer Street is managed by London-based Zodiac Maritime, part of Israeli billionaire Eyal Ofer’s Zodiac Group.
The tanker, which had been empty of cargo, was on its way from Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, to Fujairah, United Arab Emirates, at the time of the attack, Zodiac Maritime said.
On Saturday, the US navy said its nuclear-powered aircraft carrier the USS Ronald Reagan and the guided missile destroyer USS Mitscher were escorting the Mercer Street back to a safe port.
It added that navy explosive experts believe a drone attacked the vessel.
An official said the incident blasted a hole through the top of the oil tanker’s bridge, where the captain and crew command the vessel.
The company did not provide further details on the deaths of the two people onboard but said it believed no other crew members were harmed.
Labour shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy tonight urged the prime minister to ‘make it clear’ to Iran’s incoming president – who will be inaugurated next week – that ‘lawless actions will carry costs’.
In a statement, Ms Nandy said: ‘This reckless Iranian attack on a merchant vessel in international waters is a flagrant breach of international law.
‘It is tragic that this has led to the death of two sailors, including one Briton. We send our deepest condolences to their families.’
‘This is the moment where Britain must show we are resolute in our determination to end this pattern of behaviour,’ she added.
‘The breakdown of a clear strategy to deal with Iran has not served the UK or our allies well in recent years. The Foreign Secretary must now make it a priority to pursue coordinated international efforts to tackle these actions by the Iranian Government.’
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