An Iranian government spokesman yesterday described as a “cowardly attack” an incident that Iranian media have called the apparent targeting by missiles of an Iranian-owned oil tanker, and said Iran would respond after the facts had been studied.
The tanker Sabiti was hit in Red Sea waters on Friday, Iranian media have reported, an incident that could stoke friction in a region rattled by attacks on tankers and oil installations since May. “Iran is avoiding haste, carefully examining what has happened and probing facts,” government spokesman Ali Rabei was quoted as saying by the official news agency IRNA.
Separately, a senior security official said video evidence had provided leads about the incident, adding that the Sabiti was hit by two missiles, the semi-official news agency Fars reported.
“A special committee has been set up to investigate the attack on Sabiti...with two missiles and its report will soon be submitted to the authorities for decision,” said Ali Shamkhani, secretary of Iran’s top security body, according to Fars. “Piracy and mischief on international waterways aimed at making commercial shipping insecure will not go unanswered,” he said.
Rabei was quoted by IRNA as saying “an appropriate response will be given to the designers of this cowardly attack, but we will wait until all aspects of the plot are clarified”.
Leakage of cargo from the tanker has been stopped as it heads for the Gulf, the semi-official news agency Mehr reported.
Nasrollah Sardashti, head of National Iranian Tanker Company (NITC) that owns the damaged tanker, said the crew were safe and the vessel would reach Iranian waters within 10 days, the Oil Ministry’s news agency SHANA reported.
There was no claim of responsibility for the reported incident and it has yet to be independently confirmed.
It was the latest involving oil tankers in the Red Sea and Gulf region, and may ratchet up tensions.
The US Navy’s Fifth Fleet, which operates in the region, said it was aware of the reports but had no further information.
The Iranian reports on Friday offered sometimes diverging accounts.
State-run television, citing the national oil company, said the tanker was hit by missiles.
Iran’s Foreign Ministry said the ship was hit twice, without saying what struck it.
State television broadcast images from the Sabiti’s deck saying they were taken after the attack but showing no visible damage.
The ship’s hull was not in view. Oil prices rose on the news of the incident and industry sources said it could drive up already high shipping costs.
Political risk consultancy Eurasia Group said it did not have firm evidence about who may have been behind the incident.
The Red Sea is a major global shipping route for oil and other trade, linking the Indian Ocean with the Mediterranean via the Suez Canal.
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