A drone launched from Iran struck a chemical tanker in the Indian Ocean early on Saturday, in what appears to be the first attack on a commercial vessel outside the Red Sea since a recent flurry in the area.
“The Liberia-flagged, Japanese-owned, and Netherlands-operated chemical tanker was struck at approximately 6am GMT in the Indian Ocean, 200 nautical miles from the coast of India, by a one-way attack drone fired from Iran,” a Pentagon spokesperson said.
The attack is the first such known attack so far away from the Red Sea since the Israel-Hamas war began.
A string of attacks have taken place in the Red Sea on commercial ships in recent weeks.
Houthi rebels in Yemen, who are backed by Iran, have been targeting Western ships sailing off the coast of Yemen with links to Israel, in response to the war between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas in the Gaza Strip. In response, several missiles and drones have been shot down by American and French warships patrolling the area.
Tehran denies involvement
Hossein Amirabdollahian, Iran’s foreign minister, has denied involvement in Saturday’s drone attack, saying his country doesn’t have any proxy groups in the region. He has also denied involvement in attacks against vessels in the Red Sea by the Houthis in Yemen.
“The acts done by others should not be attributed to Iran proxy groups. We don’t have any proxy groups in the region,” said Amirabdollahian.
He made the comments on Saturday following the one-day Tehran International Conference on Palestine.
Triggering delays and price hikes
The attacks on commercial ships in the Red Sea by Yemen’s Houthi rebels have rerouted a huge amount of global trade away from the area, a shift expected to trigger delays and rising prices.
Oil, natural gas, grain and everything from toys to electronics typically travel through the waterway separating Africa and the Arabian Peninsula en route to the Suez Canal, where 12% of the world’s trade passes.
The Houthis are Iranian-backed rebels who seized Yemen’s capital, Sanaa, in 2014, launching a grinding war against a Saudi-led coalition seeking to restore the government.
The Houthis have sporadically targeted ships in the region, but the attacks have increased since the start of the Israel-Hamas war.
They have used drones and anti-ship missiles to attack vessels and in one case used a helicopter to board and seize an Israeli-owned ship and its crew.
Last week, the US – along with a host of other nations – announced they would team up to protect ships under attack transiting the Red Sea.
Amirabdollahian said there was no need for a coalition to secure the waterway.
“There is no need for a coalition. They [the US] should stop supporting the criminal [Israel] and they will see a more secure region and there will be even better conditions for energy transfer in the region,” the Iranian foreign minister said at the conference in Tehran.