Tehran condemns 'sabotage' of Iranian ship in Mediterranean
The cargo ship, named Iran Shahr-e-Kord and owned by the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines group (IRISL), was en route from Iran to Europe on Wednesday when its hull was hit with "an explosive device", the group's spokesman Ali Ghiasian was quoted as saying on Friday.
Iran "received information confirming that the ship suffered a sabotage attack", foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said in a statement.
He confirmed the incident had "caused damage to the vessel", without elaborating on the extent or type of damage, and condemned the attack as "a flagrant violation of international law and maritime law".
Ghiasian called the incident a "terrorist action and an example of maritime piracy".
"A small fire started where the explosion had occurred, but it was quickly extinguished... and none of the crew were hurt," he said.
Khatibzadeh said Tehran was following up on the incident to "identify the perpetrators”.
The ship was struck less than two weeks after Israel accused arch nemesis Iran of being behind an attack on an Israeli-owned ship in the Gulf of Oman, charges Tehran has strongly denied.
The United States blacklisted IRISL in mid-2020 over what the State Department described as the transportation of items related to Iran's missile and nuclear programme.
Former US president Donald Trump withdrew Washington from a landmark nuclear deal with Iran and world powers in 2018 and reimposed punishing sanctions on the Islamic republic.
Israeli forces have this week been suspected of repeatedly targetting Iranian oil tankers in international waters.
A report on Saturday from the UK newspaper The Times tied this to an oil spill near the Israeli and Lebanese coasts in the past month.
Israel has previously blamed an Iranian tanker carrying crude oil to Syria for the spill.
However, The Times said the incident “will now be viewed in a different light.”
The spill last month, described as one of Israel's worst ever ecological disasters, washed up around a thousand tonnes of tar on the Israeli coastline and at least two tonnes in southern Lebanon.
The clean-up operation could take months or even years.
The British newspaper made this connection after the Wall Street Journal reported that Israel has targeted at least 12 Iranian tankers carrying oil destined for Syria since 2019, citing US and regional officials.
The tankers were targeted in the Red Sea, Mediterranean Sea and other waters around the Middle East, according to the Wall Street Journal.
WSJ added that Israel has used weaponry including water mines to target Iranian vessels, as Iran has continued its oil trade with Syria, shipping millions of barrels in breach of US sanctions against Iran and global sanctions on Syria.
There were three strikes in 2019, six last year and three more this year.
The strikes may also link Israel to a large oil spill in the Red Sea in October 2019, for which no perpretator was named.
The attacks on the tankers carrying Iranian oil have normally gone undisclosed, and Israel has not commented on them. Iranian officials have said in the past that they suspected Israeli involvement, however.
The operations would have been planned jointly by Mossad and military intelligence, which have worked together to track Iranian targets, and would have been carried out by Flotilla 13, the Israeli navy’s special operations unit, The Times said.
Agencies contributed to this report.