An Iranian drone struck a chemical tanker in the Indian Ocean on Saturday, according to the Pentagon, marking the latest escalation of tensions and risks to shipping routes in the wake of Israel’s war with militant group Hamas.
“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. GMT) today in the Indian Ocean, 200 nautical miles from the coast of India, by a one-way attack drone fired from Iran,” a Pentagon spokesperson confirmed to The Hill.
The Pentagon said this was the “seventh Iranian attack on commercial shipping since 2021.”
No casualties were reported. A fire broke out aboard the tanker and has since been extinguished, the spokesperson said.
No U.S. Navy vessels were in the vicinity, while U.S. Naval Forces Central Command remain in communication with the U.S. vessel on its way towards India.
The attack follows Iran’s threat earlier Saturday that the Mediterranean Sea could be “closed” if the U.S. and Israel continue “crimes” in Gaza. Iran, which has long supported Hamas, accused the Israeli military and the U.S. — a close Israeli ally — of committing war crimes in Gaza.
Over 20,000 Palestinians have died in Gaza since early October in the wake of Israel’s retaliatory campaign against Hamas, according to the Gaza Health Ministry.
The U.S. has expressed steadfast support of Israel’s right to defend itself against Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack that left an estimated 1,200 people dead in Israel. This support, however, has prompted an uptick in attacks against U.S. and coalition forces in the Middle East by what’s believed to be Iranian-backed militants.
U.S. officials previously told The Hill they believe Iran is looking to force a withdrawal of the U.S. military from the region.
The threat marks the latest risk to shipping lanes, following the escalated tensions in the Red Sea, where Yemen Houthi rebels attacked several vessels. Houthi rebels claimed the attacks, several of which were against Israeli-backed vessels, are in hopes of curbing Israeli airstrikes and ground attacks in Gaza.
A series of shipping companies suspended operations in the Red Sea earlier this month in the wake of such attacks, impacting their shipping routes and global oil prices.
While the U.S. reiterates its support of Israel, the Biden administration in recent weeks has upped calls on Israel to actively try to protect civilian lives and as the country attempts to eliminate the threat of Hamas, which has ruled Gaza since 2007.
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