Israel-affiliated merchant vessel hit by aerial vehicle off India

NEW DELHI (Reuters) -An Israel-affiliated merchant vessel was struck by an uncrewed aerial vehicle off India’s west coast, British maritime security firm Ambrey said on Saturday, in the first such known attack so far away from the Red Sea since the Gaza war.

A fire on the Liberian-flagged tanker was extinguished without crew casualties in the incident 200 km (120 miles) southwest of the Indian city of Veraval, it said, adding some “structural damage was also reported and some water was taken onboard”.

“Merchant vessels are advised these types of attacks are typically targeted at Israel-affiliated shipping, but have in the past mistakenly hit previously Israel-affiliated vessels,” Ambrey said. “This event fell within Ambrey’s Iranian UAV heightened threat area.”

An Indian Navy official told Reuters that it responded to a request for assistance on Saturday morning.

“The safety of crew and ship has been ascertained. The Navy has also dispatched a warship to arrive in the area and provide assistance as required,” the official said, declining to be named as he was not authorised to discuss the incident.

Indian news agency ANI, in which Reuters has a minority stake, identified the tanker as MV Chem Pluto carrying crude oil from Saudi Arabia. Citing Indian defence sources, ANI said the tanker had around 20 Indians on board.

A Reuters tracker showed the ship was headed towards the Port of Mangalore in India’s south.

The hit on the vessel follows drone and missile attacks in the Red Sea by Iran-backed Houthis, who say they are supporting Palestinians under siege by Israel in the Gaza Strip, on commercial shipping, forcing shippers to change course and take longer routes around the southern tip of Africa.

(Reporting by Arpan Chaturvedi and Krishn Kaushik; Editing by William Mallard and Tomasz Janowski)