• Associated Press

An Israeli-owned Ship was Targeted in Suspected Iranian Attack in Indian Ocean, US Official Tells AP

Vladimir Tonic via AP
In this photo provided by Vladimir Tonic, the CMA CGM Symi is seen at Mokpo, South Korea, Jan. 20, 2022.

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — 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 elaborate on what intelligence the U.S. military gathered to assess that Iran was behind the attack, though authorities suspect Tehran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard carried out the assault.

The same drones have been used by Russia in its war on Ukraine, as recently as in a barrage launched Saturday that Kyiv described as Moscow’s biggest drone attack since the war began.

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, referred questions to the Symi’s owner, Singapore-based Eastern Pacific Shipping. That company is ultimately controlled by Israeli billionaire Idan Ofer.

A statement issued on behalf of Eastern Pacific acknowledged the company being “aware of claims that a container ship under the company’s management was targeted in a possible security incident overnight on Friday.”

“The vessel in question is currently sailing as planned,” the statement said. “All crew are safe and well.”

The company through representatives declined to answer any questions. The Israeli military referred questions to the Israeli Foreign Ministry, which did not respond.

In November 2022, the Liberian-flagged oil tanker Pacific Zircon, also associated with Eastern Pacific, sustained damage in a suspected Iranian attack off Oman.

In recent days, the Symi’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.”

Iran’s mission to the United Nations didn’t 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 the Israel-Hamas war, which began with the militants’ Oct. 7 attack, the Houthis seized a vehicle transport ship in the Red Sea off Yemen.

On Saturday, the British military’s United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations, which provides warnings to sailors in the Middle East, said “an entity declaring itself to be the Yemeni authorities” had ordered at least one ship away from a location off Hodeida, Yemen, in the Red Sea.

“Vessels in the vicinity are advised to exercise caution and report any suspicious activity,” it warned.

Iranian-backed militias in Iraq also have launched attacks on American troops in both Iraq and Syria during the war. However, Iran itself has yet to be linked directly to an attack.

“Iran has been wary of intervening in the ongoing Middle East crisis and is likely to avoid any action that might escalate the conflict,” the Eurasia Group, a geopolitical risk firm, said in an analysis. “Small-scale attacks on U.S. forces and Israel by Iran’s allies throughout the region suggest Tehran is willing to turn up the heat in a limited fashion, but unless the attacks cause U.S. casualties or significant damage, a major U.S. response is unlikely.”

Meanwhile on Saturday, Bahrain’s state-run news agency reported that its national carrier, Gulf Air, had been targeted in a hack that may have seen “some information from its email and client database” accessed.

A statement posted online by a self-described group calling itself Al-Toufan, or “The Flood” in Arabic, claimed the hacking of Gulf Air. Days earlier, another statement claimed that it hacked the Foreign Ministry and other government websites purportedly over the island kingdom’s stance on the ongoing Israel-Hamas war.