“Considering the geographical location and the way the ship was targeted, one of the strong possibilities is that this terrorist operation was carried out by the Zionist regime (Israel),” the semi-official Nournews cited a member of the Iranian team investigating the incident as saying.
Two maritime security sources familiar with the incident say that the vessel appears to have been deliberately targeted by an unknown source.
A small fire was ignited, although there were no reported injuries to crew, said Ali Ghiasian, a spokesman for the state-run shipping company. In remarks reported by state media, he said the Shahr e Kord sustained slightl damaged when an explosive object ignited a small fire, but that no one on board was hurt.
“Such terrorist acts amount to naval piracy and are contrary to international law on commercial shipping security, and legal action will be taken to identify the perpetrators through relevant international institutions,” Ghiasian said.
The Iranian investigator said incendiary projectiles may have been fired from an aerial vehicle that struck cargo on the ship’s deck.
Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh condemned the incident as an “an act of sabotage in violation of international law,” state media said, while vowing “measures to identify the perpetrators of this sabotage action are on the agenda.” Iran’s state-run shipping company IRISL said it would take legal action to identify the perpetrators of the attack, which it called terrorism and naval piracy.
The Iranian-flagged vessel last reported its position off Syria’s coast on 10 March as it headed for the Syrian port of Latakia, according to Refinitiv ship tracking data. Iranian officials say it will set sail to Europe after being repaired.
The vessel is part of Iran’s fleet that has been designated by the US by sanctions. It was detained in Libya in 2019 and later released.
A third maritime security source told Reuters that three other Iranian ships had been damaged in recent weeks by unknown causes when sailing through the Red Sea.
On Friday, Israeli officials did not provide comment when asked if Israel was involved in the Shahr e Kord incident. The following day, however, Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz commented that the IDF routinely takes action to prevent Iranian weapons shipment to its proxies in the region.
“We foil arms supplies and other things relating to operational development and military capabilities by air, sea and land,” Gantz said during a webinar address hosted by his Blue and White party on Saturday, while emphasizing, “And by this I am not saying whether we did or did not do this or that.”
The incident came two weeks after Jerusalem directly accused Iran of attacking the Israeli-owned MV Helios Ray in the Gulf of Oman. Tehran denied responsibility for the assault, which a defense official from the United States said left holes in both sides of the vessel’s hull.
The Wall Street Journal reported that Israel has targeted at least a dozen vessels bound for Syria – most of which were transporting Iranian oil – out of concern that petroleum profits are funding terrorism in the Middle East.
When asked about the Journal article, Israeli Security Cabinet Minister Tzachi Hanegbi told Tel Aviv radio 102 FM “We do not comment on the campaign we are waging, in the operational regard.”
“But we always emphasize (that) we must be poised against Iranian belligerence on all fronts…and I suppose this also includes the air and sea arenas, as well as on land,” Minister Hanegbi added.
The Israeli navy, whose largest vessels are missile corvettes and five diesel-fueled submarines, is mostly active in the Mediterranean and Red seas.