WASHINGTON -- The US investigation of the fatal attack on the Mercer Street tanker off the coast of Oman late last month contains evidence that clearly incriminates Iran.
Following the attack, an explosive investigation team from the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan boarded the tanker to examine the evidence.
In a press release detailing the team's findings on August 6, US CENTCOM spokesperson Navy Capt. Bill Urban confirmed specialists' conclusion that the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) used in the attack was produced in Iran.
The tanker was targeted on the evening of July 29 by two UAVs that were "unsuccessful", the team found.
Investigators found debris from at least one of the UAVs, which the vessel's crew retrieved from the water.
Fatal drone strike 1 day later
One day later, July 30, another drone fatally hit the ship as it was transiting international waters off Oman, near the island of Masirah in the Arabian Sea.
The ship's Romanian captain and a British security guard were killed.
"This second attack required calculated and deliberate retargeting of M/T Mercer Street by Iran," CENTCOM stated.
The extensive damage to the vessel resulted from the UAV that hit the Mercer Street in the second strike, the investigators determined.
"This UAV was loaded with a military-grade explosive, and caused the death of two crew members," Capt. Urban said, in addition to "an approximately 6-foot diameter hole in the topside of the pilot house" and extensive damage to the interior.
"Explosive chemical tests were indicative of a nitrate-based explosive and identified as RDX [Royal Demolition Explosive], indicating the UAV had been rigged to cause injury and destruction," he said.
Iran is culpable, evidence shows
Specialists on explosive devices recovered several pieces of the July 30 UAV, including a vertical stabiliser (part of the wing) and internal components, which were nearly identical to previously collected examples from Iranian one-way attack UAVs, Urban added.
"The distance from the Iranian coast to the locations of the attacks was within the range of documented Iranian one-way attack UAVs," he said.
After reviewing the evidence, specialists on explosives from both the United Kingdom and Israel concurred with the US findings that the UAV was produced in Iran.
British ambassador to the United Nations (UN) Barbara Woodward identified the drone as a Shahed-136 UAV, telling reporters after the UN Security Council discussed the tanker attack behind closed doors on August 6 that "these are manufactured only in Iran", AP reported.
The use of Iranian-designed and -produced UAVs appears to be a growing trend in the region, as Iran and its proxies use them against US-led coalition forces and other targets in Saudi Arabia and Iraq.
Iran has publicly displayed delta-wing, one-way attack UAVs similar to drones observed in the Middle East in recent years.
These displays include a May 2014 air show in Tehran and videos of smaller and larger delta-wing UAV tests conducted respectively in January and May 2021. The videos appeared on state TV and on websites affiliated with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).
'Deliberate, targeted attack'
Following the US investigation's findings, the G7 foreign ministers -- of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States -- as well as the high representative of the European Union reiterated their commitment to maritime security and to protection of commercial shipping.
In an August 6 statement, they condemned "the unlawful attack" on the Mercer Street.
"This was a deliberate and targeted attack, and a clear violation of international law. All available evidence clearly points to Iran. There is no justification for this attack," they said.
"Iran's behaviour, alongside its support to proxy forces and non-state armed actors, threatens international peace and security," they said, urging Tehran to "stop all activities inconsistent with relevant UN Security Council resolutions".
They also called on "all parties to play a constructive role in fostering regional stability and peace".