Security Firms Say ‘Suspicious Object’ Found on Oil Tanker Off Iraq

December 31, 2020 Updated: December 31, 2020

Maritime security companies said a suspicious object—possibly a type of mine—was discovered on an oil tanker off the coast of Iraq.

According to Dryad Global, one of the firms, crew members on the Liberian-flagged MT Pola “identified the presence of a suspicious object attached to the [MT Pola’s] hull whilst conducting StS 6nm South Al Bakr Terminal offshore Iraq” in the Persian Gulf.

The firm said, “Further reporting indicates that the object is suspected to be a limpet mine. The crew and vessel are understood to be safe at this time.”

A limpet mine is a type of naval mine that is attached to a target via magnets. A diver or a swimmer may attach the mine to a vessel; the limpet mines are then typically set off by a time fuse.

Dryad said that it’s not clear where the alleged limpet mine was placed, noting that another vessel, the MT Nordic Freedom, assisted the MT Pola in obtaining photos of the object.

Similar devices have been used to target vessels in the nearby Red Sea, according to Dryad, which noted heightened tensions between the United States, its allies, and Iran.

“With anniversary of the death of IRGC commander Qasem Soleimani approaching the corresponding risk within the region to all vessels is assessed to be SUBSTANTIAL,” the security firm wrote. “All vessels are encouraged to operate at a heightened posture of vigilance whilst at anchor and in transit and are reminded to report all suspicious activity to UKMTO.”

Dryad was making reference to the targeted killing of Soleimani early in 2020. Iran then fired a barrage of missiles at U.S. assets in Iraq. Meanwhile, the United States flew B-52 bombers around the Middle East on Wednesday in a bid to show the “military’s commitment to regional security and demonstrate a unique ability to rapidly deploy overwhelming combat power on short notice,” U.S. Central Command wrote.

Another security firm, Ambrey Intelligence, wrote that an “unidentified object was found affixed to the hull of a tanker” near Khor Al Zubair Anchorage that prompted fears of it being a limpet mine.

The United Kingdom Marine Trade Operations told The Associated Press that the agency is “aware of an ongoing situation” in the Persian Gulf.

The U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet said it is monitoring the incident, a spokesperson, Rebecca Rebarich, told AP.

The Pola, along with another tanker, serves as floating fuel oil storage of Iraq’s State Organization of Marketing of Oil, said Sudharsan Sarathy, a senior oil analyst at the data-analysis firm Refinitiv. Smaller vessels carry the fuel oil to the ship, which then conducts ship-to-ship transfers in the Persian Gulf to clients, AP reported.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.