Fire on ship carrying oil from Saudi; drone attack suspected

Fire on ship carrying oil from Saudi; drone attack suspected

A merchant vessel transporting crude oil to India from Saudi Arabia caught fire off the Porbandar coast on Saturday, with a drone attack being suspected behind the incident. Indian Coast Guard and Navy assets have responded to the stricken vessel, which has reported that the fire has been put out but has caused unspecified damage that has impacted its functioning.

Citing British maritime security firm Ambrey, an agency report said the vessel was affiliated with Israel and was struck by an uncrewed aerial vehicle.

Officials said that Merchant Vessel (MV) Chem Pluto that was on its way to Mangalore from Jubail in Saudi Arabia when the incident took place. The ship had a crew that included 20 Indian nationals but no injuries have been reported.

Immediately after the suspected attack an Indian Navy aircraft was sent in to assess the situation and Indian Coast Guard ship ICGS Vikram was tasked to reach the spot. The location of MV Chem Pluto is 217 nautical miles off the Probandar coast and ICGS Vikram was diverted towards it from a patrol in the Indian Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).

Officials added that Indian Navy ships have also been directed to the spot and an alert was put out to all vessels in the area to render all support possible. As of now, there seems to be no danger to the merchant vessel as the fire has been put out. Sources said that all possibilities are being explored to understand the nature of the fire and suspected attack.

This is the first time that a suspected drone strike has taken place on a merchant vessel so close to the Indian coast line. In the recent past, such attacks have been reported on vessels in the Red Sea and attributed to Houthi rebels. However, the location where the merchant vessel caught fire is far removed from known trouble hotspots, which raises the possibility of either a drone with a timer to set off an explosion being utilised or a vessel based UAV could have been used to carry out the suspected attack.

The Indian Navy has been on high alert in the Gulf of Aden as well, with attacks by Somalia-based pirates. On Thursday, an Indian Naval Ship and a reconnaissance aircraft were deployed to track a merchant vessel that had reported a pirate attack.

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