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Mercer Street: Two Europeans killed in incident on board oil tanker off Oman coast

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By Euronews  with AP
The Liberian-flagged oil tanker Mercer Street, pictured off Cape Town in January 2016.
The Liberian-flagged oil tanker Mercer Street, pictured off Cape Town in January 2016.   -   Copyright  Johan Victor via AP, FILE

Two European nationals have been killed after an oil tanker reportedly came under attack off the coast of Oman.

The incident occurred in the Arabian Sea on Thursday night, involving the Liberian-flagged ship Mercer Street, a tanker linked to an Israeli billionaire.

"With profound sadness, we understand the incident onboard the M/T Mercer Street on 29 July has resulted in the deaths of two crew members on board: a Romanian national and a UK national," the ship's London-based owner, Zodiac Maritime, said Friday.

But better news followed later on Friday as Zodiac confirmed that the crew was in control of the vessel and it was now accompanied by a US naval escort.

Zodiac Maritime, part of Israeli billionaire Eyal Ofer's Zodiac Group, issued a statement saying the ship was Japanese-owned.

A US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told The Associated Press that the attack appeared to have been carried out by a so-called “one way” “suicide” drone, raising the possibility that a government or a militia group was behind it.

No one immediately claimed responsibility for the incident.

Zodiac had earlier said on Twitter that a "suspected piracy incident" had taken place.

"At the time of the incident, the vessel was in the northern Indian Ocean, traveling from Dar es Salaam [in Tanzania] to Fujairah [in the United Arab Emirates] with no cargo on board."

UK authorities say the tanker was targeted just northeast of the Omani island of Masirah, over 300 kilometres southeast of Oman's capital, Muscat.

A brief initial statement from the British military's United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) said an investigation was underway into the incident.

Israeli officials did not immediately acknowledge the attack, but it comes amid heightened tensions between it and Iran as negotiations remain stalled over Tehran's nuclear deal with world powers.

Other Israel-linked ships have been targeted in recent months as well amid a shadow war between the two nations, with Israeli officials blaming the Islamic Republic for the assaults. Israel meanwhile has been suspected in a series of major attacks targeting Iran's nuclear program.