A container ship owned by an Israeli billionaire came under attack by a suspected Iranian drone in the Indian Ocean as Israel wages war on Hamas in the Gaza Strip, an American defense official said Saturday.
The attack Friday on the CMA CGM Symi comes as global shipping increasingly finds itself targeted in the weekslong war that threatens to become a wider regional conflict — even as a truce has halted fighting and Hamas exchanges hostages for Palestinian prisoners held by Israel.
The defense official, who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters, said the Malta-flagged vessel was suspected to have been targeted by a triangle-shaped, bomb-carrying Shahed-136 drone while in international waters. The drone exploded, causing damage to the ship but not injuring any of its crew.
“We continue to monitor the situation closely,” the official said. The official declined to explain why the US military believed Iran was behind the attack.
Al-Mayadeen, a pan-Arab satellite channel that is politically allied with the Iranian-backed Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, reported that an Israeli ship had been targeted in the Indian Ocean. The channel cited anonymous sources for the report, which Iranian media later cited.
CMA CGM, a major shipper based in Marseille, France, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. However, the vessel’s crew had been behaving as though they believed the ship faced a threat.
The ship had its Automatic Identification System tracker switched off since Tuesday when it left Dubai’s Jebel Ali port, according to data from MarineTraffic.com analyzed by the AP. Ships are supposed to keep their AIS active for safety reasons, but crews will turn them off if it appears they might be targeted. It had done the same earlier when traveling through the Red Sea past Yemen, home to the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels.
“The attack is likely to have been targeted, due to the vessel’s Israeli affiliation through Eastern Pacific Shipping,” the private intelligence firm Ambrey told the AP. “The vessel’s AIS transmissions were off days prior to the event, indicating this alone does not prevent an attack.”
The Symi is owned by Singapore-based Eastern Pacific Shipping, which is a company ultimately controlled by Israeli billionaire Idan Ofer. A phone number for Eastern Pacific Shipping in Singapore rang unanswered Saturday, while no one responded to a request for comment sent by email. The Israeli military also did not respond to a request for comment.
In November 2022, the Liberian-flagged oil tanker Pacific Zircon, also associated with Eastern Pacific, sustained damage in a suspected Iranian attack off Oman.
Iran’s mission to the United Nations did not respond to a request for comment. However, Tehran and Israel have been engaged in a yearslong shadow war in the wider Middle East, with some drone attacks targeting Israeli-associated vessels traveling around the region.
In this Israel-Hamas war, which began with the militants’ Oct. 7 attack, the Houthis seized a vehicle transport ship in the Red Sea off Yemen. Iranian-backed militias in Iraq also have launched attacks on American troops in both Iraq and Syria during the war, though Iran itself has yet to be linked directly to an attack.
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