Tensions are heightening in the Persian Gulf after the United States earlier deployed military vessels for naval drills amid the approaching anniversary of the assassination of top Iranian General Qasem Soleimani in a targeted US Air Force airstrike.
A suspicious object has been found on board a Liberian-flagged storage oil tanker in waters alongside the Persian Gulf near the Iraqi sea boundary, Fox News reported on Thursday, citing local maritime services.
According to security officials, the object is thought to be a limpet mine, usually installed by military divers on the side of a ship’s hull under the waterline to detonate at a later time. The vessel, identified as fuel oil tanker MT Pola, is owned by a shipping company trading in the US.
Two maritime security firms, Ambrey Intelligence and Dryad Global, are conducting an investigation, according to reports.
The incident occurred amid escalating tensions between the US and Iran ahead the anniversary of Soleimani’s assassination. Recently the American Ohio-class submarine USS Georgia, escorted by cruisers, crossed the Persian Gulf.
Over recent months the US has been increasing its military movements in the Persian Gulf, sending a strike group, led by the USS Nimitz and including two guided-missile cruisers, the USS Princeton and USS Philippine Sea, and a guided-missile destroyer, the USS Sterett.
Earlier, Washington accused Iran of performing several limpet mine attacks on two oil tankers in Iran’s territorial waters in the Gulf of Oman. Tehran has repeatedly denied involvement in the incidents.
The rift between the US and Iran increased in May 2018 when the administration of US President Donald Trump unilaterally left the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. Later, Iran renounced some of the treaty voluntary commitments.
US-Iran relations increased with the extrajudicial killing of Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) General Qasem Soleimani, commander of the al-Quds Force. He was assassinated 3 January in a targeted US missile strike near the Baghdad airport approved by Trump. In response, Tehran launched missile attacks on two US military bases – the Ain al-Assad base and the Erbil airbase. Tehran has repeatedly stated that it will avenge the assassination of its al-Quds commander.