Iran ship said to be Red Sea troop base off Yemen attacked

08.04.2021

An Iranian ship believed to be a base for the paramilitary Revolutionary Guard and anchored for years in the Red Sea off Yemen has been attacked, Tehran acknowledged on Wednesday.

Iran's Foreign Ministry confirmed the attack on the MV Saviz, suspected to have been carried out by Israel – although Tehran did not immediately blame its regional arch-enemy. The assault came as Iran and world powers sat down in Vienna for the first talks about the U.S. potentially rejoining the tattered deal aimed at curbing Iran's nuclear programme, showing events outside the negotiations could derail those efforts.

The ship's long presence in the region, repeatedly criticised by Saudi Arabia, has come as the West and UN experts say Iran has provided arms and support to Yemen's Houthi rebels in that country's yearslong war. Iran denies arming the Houthis, though components found in the rebels' weaponry link back to Tehran.

Iran previously described the Saviz as aiding in "anti-piracy" efforts in the Red Sea and the Bab el-Mandeb strait, a crucial chokepoint in international shipping. A statement attributed to Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh described the ship as a commercial vessel.

"Fortunately, no casualties were reported ... and technical investigations are underway," Khatibzadeh said. "Our country will take all necessary measures through international authorities.''

In an earlier state TV statement, an anchor cited a New York Times story, which quoted an anonymous U.S. official telling the newspaper that Israel informed America it carried out an attack Tuesday morning on the vessel. Israeli officials declined to comment about the assault, as did Saviz's owner.

Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz, while refusing to say if his country launched the attack, described Iran and its regional allies as a major threat. "Israel must continue to defend itself," Gantz told journalists. "Any place we find an operational challenge and necessity, we will continue to act."

Iran's semi-official Tasnim news agency, believed to be close to the Guard, reported that a limpet mine planted on Saviz's hull caused the blast. A limpet mine is a type of naval mine that is attached to the side of a ship, usually by a diver. It later explodes, and can significantly damage a vessel. Iran did not blame anyone for the attack and said Iranian officials likely would offer more information in the coming days.

In a statement, the U.S. military's Central Command only said it was aware of media reports of an incident involving the Saviz and that U.S. forces were not involved. (AP)

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