Tuesday, Dec 26, 2023

Drone attack on a chemical tanker off Gujarat coast: All you need to know

Iran has rejected the United States’ claim that it was behind a drone attack on MV Chem Pluto, saying that the accusations were meant to distract from Washington’s complicity in ‘Israel’s crimes in Gaza’. Here is all you need to know.

Chem PlutoThe MV Chem Pluto, which was hit by a drone in the Indian Ocean on Saturday. (PTI Photo)

Chemical tanker MV Chem Pluto was hit by a drone strike on Saturday (December 23), roughly 200 nautical miles (370 km) off the coast of Gujarat.

While a fire broke out on the ship, it was quickly extinguished. No casualties were reported. After the incident, the Indian Coast Guard Ship (ICGS) Vikram escorted Chem Pluto towards Mumbai, where it arrived on Monday (December 25).

Here is all you need to know about the incident.

What was the ship doing?


MV Chem Pluto is a Liberia-flagged, Japanese-owned, and Netherlands-operated chemical tanker. It had started its journey carrying crude from Al Jubail, Saudi Arabia, on December 19, and was expected to arrive in New Mangalore on December 25.

Why was it attacked?

A likely reason that the tanker was targeted is its Israeli affiliation. Its operator, Amsterdam-based Ace Quantum Chemical Tankers, is jointly owned by Israeli billionaire Idan Ofer, the eighth richest man in the world. Notably, Ofer recently resigned from the board of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Management citing the board’s weak response to anti-Israeli protests on the campus.

Festive offer

This would be one of many attacks on Israel-linked vessels in recent weeks (more on that later).

Who is behind the attack?

The Pentagon, on Sunday, claimed that the ship was struck by “a one-way attack drone fired from Iran.” Amidst the spate of recent maritime assaults, this is the first the US is directly blaming Iran.


However, Iran has vehemently dismissed these claims.“Such claims are aimed at projecting, distracting public attention, and covering up for the full support of the American government for the crimes of the Zionist regime in Gaza,” Nasser Kanaani, Iran Foreign Ministry spokesperson, said on Monday.

If it is the Houthis (next section) who have carried out this attack (like all the previous ones), this would be the most distant ship targeted by the group till date.

What explains the recent attacks?

This spate of recent attacks on merchant vessels is a spillover of Israel’s relentless assault on Gaza. Since last month, the Houthis from Yemen have constantly targeted Israel-linked ships, citing Israel’s continued aggression in Gaza as the reason behind their actions.


After hijacking an Israel-owned ship last month, Mohammed Abdul-Salam, the Houthis’ spokesman, said in an online statement that the Israelis only understand “the language of force,” the AP reported. “This is just the beginning,” he added. Since then, the Houthis have attacked and seized commercial ships over 15 times.

Who are the Houthis?

The Houthis have been locked in a civil war with the official Yemen government for almost a decade. They are currently in control of much of northern and western Yemen, including the official capital Sanaa.

Experts believe that the Yemeni Civil War is a proxy war between Iran, backing the Houthis, and Saudi Arabia and the West, backing the official government. Thus, many have blamed Iran for the latest attacks, with the US saying that Iran was “deeply involved”.

Iran has, however, dismissed these claims. “The resistance [Houthis] has its own tools… and acts in accordance with its own decisions and capabilities,” Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Ali Bagheri told the Mehr news agency on Saturday.

Why are these attacks concerning?

Most of the attacks have taken place in the Red Sea area, and the Bab el-Mandeb straits off the Yemeni coast. The nearly 2,000-km Red Sea connects the Mediterranean Sea with the Indian Ocean via the narrow Suez Canal, accounting for around 12 per cent of global trade. Thus attacks on commercial shipping on this route can have a major impact on the global economy.


Companies such as shipping fleet operator AP Møller-Maersk and oil and gas giant British Petroleum paused their movements through this route in light of the attacks, and are taking a longer, more fuel-intensive and time-consuming route. Moreover, every ship plying on this route will attract a “war risk” surcharge.

How has the world responded?

US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin on December 19 announced the establishment of Operation Prosperity Guardian, a multinational security initiative to thwart Houthi attacks. This operation will see the joint participation of the UK, Bahrain, Canada, France, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Seychelles, and Spain as well as several other countries, who thus far remain unnamed. It will see naval ships conducting joint patrols and providing an umbrella of protection to merchant vessels travelling on the route.

First published on: 26-12-2023 at 09:24 IST
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