The Liberia-flagged Pola noticed a “suspicious object” on the ship as it was discharging cargo onto another vessel, according to a statement from owner Dynacom Tankers Management, which added that all crew members are safe.
The object was later found to be a bomb, and an Iraqi naval force with an explosives team was sent to defuse the device, according to an official who declined to be named. It was not immediately clear who may have placed it on the tanker.
The Persian Gulf and Red Sea have been a hotbed for attacks on vessels in recent years, with tensions flaring between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Earlier this month an explosion that Saudi officials described as a “terrorist” attack rocked a ship in the port of Jeddah on the Red Sea. That incident occurred just weeks after an oil tanker was damaged in a possible attack in the same body of water .
At the same time, there is heightened focus on security in the region — particularly with Iran, which is subject to U.S. sanctions — as President-elect Joe Biden prepares to succeed Donald Trump in January. Almost exactly a year ago, Trump ordered a drone strike in Iraq that killed one of Iran’s most powerful generals.
The Pola, a Suezmax-class vessel, has been anchored since Nov. 7 and is likely being used as floating storage for oil, ship-tracking data compiled by Bloomberg show. At the time the object was discovered on its hull, the tanker appeared to be transferring cargo to the Nordic Freedom, owned by Nordic American Tankers Ltd.
The Pola buys oil offshore and isn’t affiliated with Iraq’s export terminals, according to the official.
U.K. Maritime Trade Operations, which serves as link between the Royal Navy and merchant vessels operating in high risk areas, initially identified the incident, without naming the vessel or specifying what was attached to the hull. Maritime security consultant Dryad Global said the object was suspected of being a limpet mine, which can be fastened to a ship.
The U.S. Fifth Fleet, which operates in the region, had no further details beyond what UKMTO said in its notice, according to a spokeswoman.