An explosion ripped through the hull of an Israeli-owned cargo ship in the Gulf of Oman, reportedly leaving holes in each side of the vessel. Officials said the crew and vessel are safe, but there was no immediate explanation for the blast in a waterway that has a history of attacks on shipping blamed on Iran.
In an advisory dated Thursday, the United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations said it had been informed of the explosion, that investigations are ongoing and that the crew and vessel are safe and proceeding to their next port of call.
Dryad Global, a maritime security risk-management firm, identified the ship as the MV Helios Ray. It said the vessel was inbound from Singapore and that the explosion occurred about 44 nautical miles (50 miles) from Muscat, Oman’s capital.
The company further speculated in a tweet that it was “a realistic possibility” that the explosion “was the result of asymmetric activity by #Iranian military.”
The International Maritime Organization says the Helios Ray is a Bahamian-flagged roll-on, roll-off vehicle carrier, operated by Tel Aviv-based Helios Ray Ltd. According to Marinetracker.com, the vessel’s last reported position was about 200 miles southeast of the Strait of Hormuz.
Israeli public broadcasting identified the ship’s owner as Israeli businessman Rami Ungar and quoted him as saying the blast left two holes in the ship, and that no one aboard was injured.
That assessment was echoed by two American defense officials who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity. However, they said two holes were left on each side of the hull just above the waterline.
The description of damage to the Helios Ray appears to superficially resemble that for another vessel that was damaged in the same waterway in June 2019. The MV Kokuka Courageous was left with multiple holes in its side that the U.S. Naval Forces Central Command said at the time appeared to be caused by limpet mines, which are designed to be attached magnetically to a ship’s hull.
The 2019 Kokura Courageous incident was one of a number that year in the Gulf of Oman and the Persian Gulf blamed on Iran. They occurred as the Trump administration abandoned the 2015 nuclear deal with Tehran.
Iran denied responsibility for the attacks.
The latest incident comes as the U.S. launched airstrikes against Iranian-backed militia groups in Syria in response to recent rocket attacks against Americans in Iraq blamed on Kata’ib Hezbollah, an Iraqi Shia militia group backed by Iran.
Since taking office, President Biden has sought to re-engage with Iran and suggested the U.S. could rejoin the nuclear accord. Meanwhile, Tehran has stepped up breaches of the pact which limit its enrichment of uranium and prevent it from acquiring nuclear weapons.
Amid escalating tensions with the U.S. last month, Iran conducted an annual military exercise in the Gulf of Oman, involving commando units and airborne infantry, as well as fighter jets, helicopters and military transport aircraft, according to Military Times.
NPR’s Daniel Estrin in Jerusalem contributed to this report.