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story.lead_photo.caption In this photo provided by the U.S. Navy, sailors assigned to an explosive ordnance unit board an MH-60S Seahawk helicopter on the flight deck of aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan to head to an oil tanker that was attacked off the coast of Oman in the Arabian Sea on Friday, July 30, 2021. An attack on an oil tanker linked to an Israeli billionaire killed two crew members off Oman in the Arabian Sea, authorities said Friday, marking the first fatalities after years of assaults targeting shipping in the region. (Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Quinton A. Lee/U.S. Navy, via AP)

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — U.S. Navy explosive experts believe a “drone strike” targeted an oil tanker that came under attack off the coast of Oman in the Arabian Sea, killing two on board, the American military said Saturday.

The strike Thursday night on the oil tanker Mercer Street marks the first-known fatal attack after years of assaults on commercial shipping in the region linked to tensions with Iran over its tattered nuclear deal. While no one has claimed responsibility for the attack, Israeli officials alleged Tehran launched the drone strike.

While Iran did not directly acknowledge the attack, the strike comes as Tehran now appears poised to take an even tougher approach with the West as the country prepares to inaugurate a hard-line protégé of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as president.

The American nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan and the guided missile destroyer USS Mitscher were escorting the Mercer Street as it headed to a safe port, the U.S. Navy’s Mideast-based 5th Fleet said in a statement early Saturday.

“U.S. Navy explosives experts are aboard to ensure there is no additional danger to the crew, and are prepared to support an investigation into the attack,” the 5th Fleet said. “Initial indications clearly point to a (drone)-style attack.”

The 5th Fleet statement did not explain how it determined a drone caused the damage, although it described its explosive experts finding “clear visual evidence that an attack had occurred” aboard the Mercer Street. The U.S. military’s Central Command did not immediately respond to a questions on the evidence.

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