MV Chem Pluto, a cargo vessel carrying crude oil from Saudi Arabia which was targeted in a drone attack allegedly by Houthi militants, reached Mumbai port on Monday. While the US has claimed that the drone attack originated from Iran, Tehran has denied the charge, calling these “repetitive accusations”.
The chemical tanker, under Liberian flag, owned by Japan, and operated by the Netherlands, was struck by the drone on December 23, about 200 nautical miles off the Indian coast. It was carrying crude oil from Al Jubail port in Saudi Arabia to New Mangalore port.
According to the Indian Navy, 20 Indian and Vietnamese crew were onboard the merchant ship. No one was injured in the attack.
The cargo ship reached Mumbai port on Monday under the protection of the Indian Coast Guard ship ICGS Vikram.
WHAT DID THE US CLAIM?
According to a Reuters report quoting a Pentagon spokesperson, the attack on MV Chem Pluto was carried out by a “one-way attack drone fired from Iran”.
“The motor vessel CHEM PLUTO, a Liberia-flagged, Japanese-owned, and Netherlands-operated chemical tanker was struck at approximately 10 am local time (6 am GMT) today (Saturday) in the Indian Ocean, 200 nautical miles from the coast of India, by a one-way attack drone fired from Iran,” the spokesperson told Reuters.
Incidentally, the cargo ship MV Chem Pluto was “Israel-affiliated”, according to Ambrey, a maritime security firm, as reported by Times of Israel.
The US claims that the attack was carried out by Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebels, who are targeting ships in the Red Sea after the October 7 attack on Israel by Hamas and the following retaliatory action by Tel Aviv.
On December 22, the Pentagon claimed that Houthis have launched more than 100 drone and missile attacks, targeting 10 merchant vessels in the Red Sea in solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza.
White House National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson said in a statement that Iran is providing weapons, funding, training and “tactical intelligence” to Houthis enabling the strikes in the Red Sea.
“Iranian support throughout the Gaza crisis has enabled the Houthis to launch attacks against Israel and maritime targets, though Iran has often deferred operational decision-making authority to the Houthis,” Watson was quoted as saying by news agency AP.
Watson said that without the Iranian support, “the Houthis would struggle to effectively track and strike commercial vessels”.
In a separate incident, a Gabon-flagged commercial crude oil tanker, MV SaiBaba, came under a drone attack in the Southern Red Sea. Twenty-five crew members on the ship were Indians.
The US Central Command confirmed the drone attack launched by Houthi militants but stated that no injuries were reported.
WHAT DID IRAN SAY?
Iran has denied the US’s claim that a drone launched by it struck a chemical tanker near India’s west coast in the Arabian Sea.
“We reject their (the Americans’) worthless claims, which clearly are politically motivated and are a blame game aimed at covering up the US’s crimes in Gaza,” Iran’s foreign ministry spokesperson Nasser Kanaani was quoted as saying by state-owned broadcaster Press TV.
“Iran has always ensured security in high seas, acted responsibly, and played an important role in maritime security and international trade through waters. Therefore, the US and no other parties are in a position to accuse Iran,” he added.
NAVY PROBING DRONE ATTACK
In a statement on December 24, Sunday, the Navy said it continues to monitor the situation very closely with all stakeholders and remains committed to ensuring the safety of merchant shipping in the region.
A joint investigation is being carried out by the Indian Coast Guard, Indian Navy, intelligence agencies and other officials concerned to ascertain how the ship was attacked.
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