Crew reported safe and vessel heads to the nearest port as circumstances of the explosion remain unclear.

An explosion has struck an Israeli-owned ship near the strategic mouth of the Gulf, the United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) and a maritime security firm said on Friday.

The crew and vessel were safe, according to the UKMTO, which is run by the British navy. The explosion forced the Bahamas-flagged ship, the MV Helios Ray, to head to the nearest port.

The incident occurred at 20:40 GMT on Thursday, the UKMTO said, but gave no details about a possible cause.

“Vessels transiting the area are advised to exercise caution,” it said.

The US Navy’s Bahrain-based 5th Fleet was “aware and monitoring” the situation, Commander Rebecca Rebarich told The Associated Press news agency. She declined to immediately comment further.

The British maritime organisation gave the ship’s last position as off the coast of Muscat, the capital of Oman.

Maritime security firm Dryad Global said the MV Helios Ray was a vehicle carrier owned by Helios Ray Ltd, an Israeli firm registered in the Isle of Man. The ship was en route to Singapore from Dammam in Saudi Arabia.

While the circumstances of the explosion remain unclear, Dryad Global said the blast might have stemmed from “asymmetric activity by Iranian military,” which it said would be “commensurate” with heightened regional tensions.

Israel’s Transportation Ministry said it was not aware of the incident.

As Iran seeks to pressure the US to lift sanctions and return to the 2015 nuclear accord, the country may seek “to exercise forceful diplomacy through military means,” the Dryad report said.

Iran did not immediately acknowledge the incident.

Suspected attacks on oil tankers

Two oil tankers near the strategic Strait of Hormuz were reportedly attacked in June 2019, an assault that left one ablaze and adrift as sailors were evacuated from both vessels and the US Navy rushed to assist amid heightened tensions between Washington and Tehran [File: ISNA/ AP Photo]

In the summer of 2019, against the backdrop of steeply rising tensions between Iran and the administration of former President Donald Trump, the US military blamed Iran for suspected attacks on two oil tankers near the Strait of Hormuz, one of the world’s most strategic shipping lanes.

The explosions came after the US attributed a series of confrontations in the region to Iran, including the use of limpet mines – designed to be attached magnetically to a ship’s hull – to attack four oil tankers off the nearby Emirati port of Fujairah, and the bombing of an oil pipeline in Saudi Arabia by Iranian-backed fighters.

Tensions between the nations escalated after Trump’s unilateral withdrawal from the nuclear accord in 2018 and the reimposition of harsh sanctions on Iran. In response, Iran has gradually and publicly breached the nuclear deal with world powers to create leverage over Washington to return to the deal, which saw Tehran agree to limit its enrichment of uranium in exchange for the lifting of crippling sanctions.





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