Ship with ties to Israel targeted in suspected Iranian attack in Indian Ocean

US official tells AP container ship ultimately owned by Israeli billionaire attacked by suspected Iranian drone, suffers slight damage; route and cargo unrelated to Israel

In this photo provided by Manuel Hernandez Lafuente, the CMA CGM Symi is seen at port in Valencia, Spain, Oct. 22, 2023. (Manuel Hernandez Lafuente via AP)
In this photo provided by Manuel Hernandez Lafuente, the CMA CGM Symi is seen at port in Valencia, Spain, Oct. 22, 2023. (Manuel Hernandez Lafuente via AP)

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — A container ship with ties to an Israeli billionaire came under attack by a suspected Iranian drone in the Indian Ocean amid Israel’s war on Hamas in the Gaza Strip, an American defense official said Saturday.

The attack Friday on shipping giant CMA CGM’s ship Symi came as global shipping increasingly finds itself targeted in the weekslong war that threatens to become a wider regional conflict — even as a temporary truce has halted fighting and Hamas exchanges hostages for Palestinian prisoners held by Israel.

The defense official, who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters, said the Malta-flagged vessel was suspected to have been targeted by a triangle-shaped, bomb-carrying Shahed-136 drone while in international waters. The drone exploded, causing damage to the ship but not injuring any of its crew.

“We continue to monitor the situation closely,” the official said. The official declined to elaborate on what intelligence the US military gathered to assess Iran was behind the attack.

Al-Mayadeen, a pan-Arab satellite channel that is politically allied with the Iranian-backed Lebanese terrorist group Hezbollah, reported that an Israeli ship had been targeted in the Indian Ocean. The channel cited anonymous sources for the report, which Iranian media later cited.

The Times of Israel has learned that the damage caused to the ship was estimated to be minor. The ship, its cargo, its operating company and its points of departure and destination did not appear to have any clear ties to Israel. Rather, the Symi is leased to CMA CGM by Singapore-based Eastern Pacific Shipping, which is a company ultimately controlled by Israeli billionaire Idan Ofer.

CMA CGM, a major shipper based in Marseille, France, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. However, the vessel’s crew had been behaving as though they believed the ship faced a threat.

The ship had its Automatic Identification System tracker switched off since Tuesday when it left Dubai’s Jebel Ali port, according to data from analyzed by the AP. Ships are supposed to keep their AIS active for safety reasons, but crews will turn them off if it appears they might be targeted. It had done the same earlier when traveling through the Red Sea past Yemen, home to the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels.

“The attack is likely to have been targeted, due to the vessel’s Israeli affiliation through Eastern Pacific Shipping,” the private intelligence firm Ambrey told the AP. “The vessel’s AIS transmissions were off days prior to the event, indicating this alone does not prevent an attack.”

A phone number for Eastern Pacific Shipping in Singapore rang unanswered Saturday, while no one responded to a request for comment sent by email.

The Israel Defense Forces referred questions to the Foreign Ministry, which did not immediately respond.

Liberian-flagged oil tanker Pacific Zircon, operated by Singapore-based Eastern Pacific Shipping in Jebel Ali port, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, on August 16, 2015. (AP Photo/Nabeel Hashmi)

In November 2022, the Liberian-flagged oil tanker Pacific Zircon, also associated with Eastern Pacific, sustained damage in a suspected Iranian attack off Oman.

Iran’s mission to the United Nations did not respond to a request for comment. However, Tehran and Israel have been engaged in a years-long shadow war in the wider Middle East, with some drone attacks targeting Israeli-associated vessels traveling around the region.

Since the start of the war with the Hamas terror organization, the Houthis seized a vehicle transport ship in the Red Sea off Yemen. Iranian-backed militias in Iraq also have launched attacks on American troops in both Iraq and Syria during the war, though Iran itself has yet to be linked directly to an attack.

War erupted after the October 7 massacre, which saw some 3,000 Hamas terrorists burst across the border into Israel from the Gaza Strip by land, air and sea, killing some 1,200 people and seizing over 240 hostages of all ages under the cover of a deluge of thousands of rockets fired at Israeli towns and cities. The vast majority of those killed as gunmen seized border communities were civilians — including babies, children and the elderly.

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