Baghdad (AFP) – Iraqi authorities said on Friday that Iraqi explosives experts are working to defuse a large mine discovered on an oil tanker in the Persian Gulf and to evacuate its crew.
The statement came a day after two private security companies announced that the sailors feared that they had found a small mine in the MT Pola tanker flying the Liberian flag in the waters off the Iraqi port of Basra. A sticky mine is a type of marine mine that is attached to the side of a ship, usually by a member of Special Forces divers. It detonates later, and can deal extensive damage to the ship.
The Iraqi statement said the mine was linked to a tanker leased from the Iraqi Oil Marketing Company SOMO that was supplying fuel to another vessel. The Iraqi Security Information Cell, affiliated with the Iraqi Security Forces, said that the Iraqi navy is making “great efforts to get the job done” safely.
This is the first official Iraqi confirmation of the discovery of a mine in an Iraqi tanker transporting fuel in the Persian Gulf to another ship. She did not specify the vessels, and did not provide further details.
The discovery came amid escalating tensions between Iran and the United States in the final days of President Donald Trump’s administration.
Indeed, America has conducted B-52 bomber flights and sent a nuclear submarine to the Persian Gulf due to what Trump officials have described as the possibility of an Iranian attack on the first anniversary of the US drone strike in Baghdad that killed a senior Iranian general and a prominent Iraqi militia leader.
Iraq is marking the anniversary with a series of events this week.
On Thursday, UK maritime trade operations, an organization of the British Royal Navy, said on its website that an “unknown object” had been attached to the hull of the ship near the Iraqi port of Khor Al-Zubair, without providing further information.
Sudarsan Sarathy, chief oil analyst at data analysis firm Refinitiv, said Paula operates as a warehouse of floating fuel oil at the Iraqi state oil marketing organization. Small ships carry fuel oil to the ship, which then makes ship-to-ship transfers in the Persian Gulf for clients.
Sarathi said Paula was conducting a ship-to-ship transfer with the MT Nordic Freedom, a tanker flying the Bermuda flag.
A statement on Friday said that an explosives-handling team from the Iraqi Interior Ministry was airlifted to the scene after a “foreign object” associated with a ship was seen in the waiting area in Iraqi international waters, 28 nautical miles from the Iraqi oil ports.
She added that despite the high waves, the vessel receiving fuel was evacuated while the Iraqi team was still working to neutralize the mine and evacuate the refueling vessel.
In 2019, the United States blamed Iran for a series of irregular mine attacks on oil tankers near the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow mouth of the Persian Gulf through which 20% of all the world’s oil passes. Iran denies it was involved.