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Report: Drone Attack on the Tanker Mercer Street Came From Yemen

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Damage to the pilothouse of the tanker Mercer Street (Courtesy CENTCOM)

Published Aug 9, 2021 12:19 AM by The Maritime Executive

UK outlet The Daily Express has reported that a team of UK SAS commandos and U.S. special operations forces are in Yemen to hunt Iranian-backed Houthi militants who allegedly launched the drone strike on the tanker Mercer Street on July 29. The attack killed the vessel's Romanian captain and a British security guard, and the EU, the G7 and Israel have accused Iran of "reckless" action in targeting the civilian vessel. 

The Daily Express' allegation of the involvement of Houthi forces in the attack has not been previously reported and could not be immediately confirmed. One UK defense official told the outlet that “everything points to the drone being launched from Yemen" and that "the concern now is that an extended range drone will give them a new capability."

Iran has long been accused of supplying the Houthi movement with arms, including sophisticated drones, missiles and unmanned bomb boats. Houthi forces claimed responsibility for a large-scale drone attack on Saudi oil infrastructure in September 2019 - a strike widely attributed to Iran - and the group launched repeated drone attacks on Saudi oil facilities earlier this year. 

International condemnation

In an unusual joint statement issued Friday, the EU and the G7 nations - Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK and the U.S. - condemned the attack and pointed at Iran for responsibility. 

"This was a deliberate and targeted attack, and a clear violation of international law. All available evidence clearly points to Iran," the group said. "Iran’s behavior, alongside its support to proxy forces and non-state armed actors, threatens international peace and security. We call on Iran to stop all activities inconsistent with relevant UN Security Council resolutions, and call on all parties to play a constructive role in fostering regional stability and peace."

Israel has accused one Iranian official, Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps officer Saeed Ara Jani, of masterminding the attack and other Iranian drone operations in the region. "[Jani] plans and provides the training and equipment to conduct terror attacks in the region," said Israeli defense minister Benny Gantz on Wednesday.

Iran has repeatedly denied the allegations and warned its opponents - particularly Israel - against any attempt at a retaliatory attack. “We strongly condemn the baseless statement by the foreign ministers of the G7 and the European Union’s high representative for foreign affairs in which they have directed baseless accusations at the Islamic Republic of Iran,” said foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh on Sunday. 

U.S. Central Command obtained remnants of the drone that struck the ship, and on Friday, it released extensive evidence suggesting Iranian involvement. The investigation of the drone wreckage found a "confluence of multiple components with very specific and matching identities to previously exploited (and known) Iranian one-way attack UAVs," according to a spokesman. CENTCOM also noted that the location of the strike was within operating range of launching points in Iran.