Pentagon says chemical tanker struck by Iranian drone in Indian Ocean

The Pentagon is seen from the air on March 3, 2022.

The Pentagon is seen from the air on March 3, 2022.Joshua Roberts/ReutersCNN — 

A chemical tanker operating in the Indian Ocean was struck by an Iranian attack drone Saturday, a US Department of Defense official said, the seventh Iranian attack on commercial shipping since 2021.

“The motor vessel CHEM PLUTO, a Liberia-flagged, Japanese-owned, and Netherlands-operated chemical tanker was struck at approximately 10 a.m. local time (6 a.m. Greenwich Mean Time) today in the Indian Ocean, 200 nautical miles from the coast of India, by a one-way attack drone fired from Iran,” the official said in a statement.

A one-way attack drone is designed to impact its target rather than return to its origin. “There were no casualties and a fire on board the tanker has been extinguished,” the defense official said.

“No US Navy vessels were in the vicinity,” the statement said, adding Naval Forces Central Command was communicating with the struck vessel.

India’s coast guard said there were 20 Indian crew members, and one Vietnamese, on board at the time of the attack. However, it added that no casualties had been reported.

It said it had dispatched a patrol vessel and a maritime surveillance aircraft after establishing communication with the vessel.

After conducting damage assessment and repairs on its power generation systems, MV Chem Pluto had started making its way toward Mumbai while being escorted by the patrol vessel, the coast guard said.

The ship left Saudi Arabia on December 19 and was expected to arrive in India’s southwestern port city of Mangalore on December 25.

The strike in the Indian Ocean comes as Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen have launched more than 100 attacks against about a dozen commercial and merchant ships transiting the Red Sea over the past four weeks, CNN previously reported.

houthi rebels hijack cargo ship red sea mclean

US intelligence suggests Iran involved in planning attacks in Red Sea

US Central Command reported more such incidents in a statement on social media Saturday. A crude oil tanker was hit by “a one-way attack drone” Saturday. There were no injuries, Central Command said. A separate chemical tanker operating in the southern Red Sea reported a “near miss” Saturday from a one-way drone, the command said.

Also, two “anti-ship ballistic missiles” were fired into the southern Red Sea from Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen but did not hit any vessels, the statement said, and the USS Laboon, a Navy destroyer, shot down four aerial drones that were heading toward it.

While there have been recurring attacks originating from Yemen, Saturday’s strike in the Indian Ocean involving a drone the US says originated from Iran may mark a new escalation in tensions.

The US on Friday released newly declassified intelligence that suggests Iran has been “deeply involved in planning the operations against commercial vessels in the Red Sea,” National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson told CNN.

The newly declassified intelligence suggests that “Iranian support throughout the Gaza crisis has enabled the Houthis to launch attacks against Israel and maritime targets, though Iran has often deferred operational decision-making authority to the Houthis,” Watson said.

The US this week launched Operation Prosperity Guardian, a maritime coalition aimed at beefing up security in the southern Red Sea. More than 20 nations have signed on to the initiative so far, the Pentagon said Thursday.

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