Iran ship attack: did Tehran strike the Mercer Street tanker – and what does it mean for Israel and the world?

Tehran has denied responsibility for the attack, accusing Israel of making baseless accusations, but the UK has said it is ‘highly likely’ Iran carried out the assault

The UK has said it is “highly likely” Iran carried out an “unlawful and callous attack” on a ship in the Middle East which left a Briton dead.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said the Government believed the drone attack on an oil tanker off the coast of Oman – which also killed a Romanian – was “deliberate, targeted, and a clear violation of international law by Iran”.

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The strike on the Mercer Street tanker on Thursday (29 July) night was the first known fatal attack after years of assaults on commercial shipping in the region linked to tensions with Iran over its tattered nuclear deal.

Tug boats are moored next to Israeli-linked tanker MT Mercer Street, off the Fujayrah port in the United Arab Emirates, on August 3 (Photo: KARIM SAHIB/AFP via Getty Images)

Following the attack, Iran’s ambassador to the UK was summoned to the Foreign Office, which said the drone assault followed similar attacks on three other Israeli-linked ships in the region since February.

Here is everything you need to know about it.

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What happened?

The Mercer Street, empty of cargo, had been on its way from Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, to Fujairah, United Arab Emirates, at the time of the attack, Zodiac Maritime – the London-based company that manages the ship – said.

The attack targeted the tanker just north east of the Omani island of Masirah, 185 miles southeast of Oman’s capital Muscat.

The American nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan and the guided missile destroyer USS Mitscher were escorting the Mercer Street as it headed to a safe port, the US navy’s Middle East-based 5th Fleet said in a statement on Saturday.

Navy explosive experts believe a drone attacked the vessel, blasting a hole through the top of the oil tanker’s bridge, where the captain and crew commanded the vessel.

British maritime security firm Ambrey said the attack killed one of its employees aboard.

How has the UK responded?

On 2 August, a Foreign Office spokesman said the Iranian ambassador to the UK, Mohsen Baharvand, had been summoned by the minister for the Middle East, James Cleverly, “in response to the unlawful attack”.

Cleverly told Baharvand that Tehran must “immediately cease actions that risk international peace and security”, while Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab promised to work with allies on a “concerted response” to Iran following the attack.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said he is confident that Iran carried out the attack using explosive drones – “a lethal capability it is increasingly employing throughout the region”.

Tehran has denied responsibility, accusing Israel of making baseless accusations against Iran.

Could it lead to conflict?

Boris Johnson was asked by reporters on Monday (2 August) whether the UK would consider military action as part of its response to the attack on the tanker Mercer Street.

The Prime Minister told Iran to “face up to the consequences” of its actions, and said Hassan Rouhani’s government should accept responsibility for the attack.

“I think that Iran should face up to the consequences of what they have done, accept the attribution that the Foreign Secretary has made,” he said. “This was clearly an unacceptable and outrageous attack on commercial shipping, a UK national died.”

“It is absolutely vital that Iran and every other country respects the freedoms of navigation around the world, and the UK will continue to insist on that.”

The UK is mulling a cyber attack on Tehran and potential special forces assault in retaliation for an attack, according to The Sun.

The paper cited “Government sources” as saying a range of options was being drawn up for retaliation, with a “senior defence source” claiming the most likely would be in cyberspace, warning “nobody will see it here but they will be left in no doubt you cannot kill a Brit unchecked”.

Minister for digital infrastructure Matt Warman said “all the evidence that we see points to the fact that it was Iranian action”

He told Sky News: “The issue is working with international partners to see what action can be taken, but it’s clearly totally unacceptable for any state to be taking the kind of action that results in the loss of life, in this case the loss of two lives, one of them British.

“So it’s a very serious situation and one that we’d like to see the end of as quickly as possible, so Iran really does need to do better I think in this situation.”

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