12:22 GMT18 April 2021
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    The reported incident comes amid a growing list of back-and-forth accusations by Iran and Israel of attacks on one another's vessels throughout the Middle East.

    Iranian general cargo ship the Saviz has been attacked in the Red Sea, sources told Saudi-owned, Dubai-based television news channel Al Arabiya on Tuesday.

    The merchant ship, which US, Israeli, and Saudi officials and media have previously claimed may be a covert Revolutionary Guard forward base or intelligence-gathering vessel, was reportedly struck by a missile.

    A defence correspondent for Iran's Tasnim news agency reported citing sources that the ship's hull was damaged as a result of the explosion of limpet mines, which use magnets to attach onto targets. 

    Marine Traffic lists the general cargo ship as "out of range," with its position as of earlier today shown to be in the southern Red Sea, approximately equidistant to Eritrea and Yemen. Its last check-in was reported at 11:59 UTC on 29 September 2020.

    Last reported position of the Iranian-flagged Saviz general cargo vessel, 6 April, 2021.
    © Photo : Screengrab / MarineTraffic
    Last reported position of the Iranian-flagged Saviz general cargo vessel, 6 April, 2021.

    Some Arab media say that the ship may have suffered "great damage." Scattered reports coming out of Israel claim it may have been hit by an Israeli missile. Neither Iran nor Israel have officially commented on the incident. Anonymous US officials speaking to Reuters denied any role in the incident.

    The Saviz was built in 1999 and its home port is Bandar Abbas. The ship has reportedly been moored off the Red Sea archipelago of Dahlak since 2016. Iranian media have previously described the it as a trade vessel, and as a floating base that supports anti-piracy escort missions by Iranian commandos.

    Roiling Maritime Tensions

    Saudi and US officials have repeatedly accused Iran of providing military support to Yemen's Houthi militia, who have been fighting against a Saudi-led coalition since 2015. Iran has praised the Houthis for their struggle, but denied claims that it provides material assistance to the group, citing the coalition's blockade of the country.

    Tuesday's incident also comes amid rising tensions between Iran and Israel, with the two countries making back-and-forth claims about attacks on one another's vessels in recent months, and Israel's environment minister accusing Tehran of deliberately polluting the country's beaches in a hit-and-run attack in February (Israel's military and intelligence services later backtracked on those allegations).

    In late March, Israeli media reported that an Israeli-owned cargo ship had been damaged after being struck by an "Iranian missile" as it sailed through the Arabian Sea on route from Tanzania to India. A month earlier, Israel claimed Iran may have attacked another Israeli ship – the MV Helios Ray, in the Gulf of Oman. Iran vocally denied the claims, calling it an elaborate "false flag operation," and Tel Aviv did not provide any evidence supporting their claims. Also in March, Iran claimed that Israel may have been responsible for the attack on an Iranian-flagged container ship, the Shahr-e Kord, in the Mediterranean Sea in what it described as an act of "terrorism" and "naval piracy." Israel made no comment on those allegations.

    In mid-March, the Wall Street Journal reported that Israel has targeted at least a dozen Iranian cargo ships attempting to deliver oil to Syria over the past two years. Haaretz estimated that the cumulative losses suffered by Iran as a result of these suspected attacks runs into the "billions of dollars." The newspaper indicated that unlike previous offensive operations by the Israeli Navy, which occasionally saw commandos boarding vessels and shooting crews, the actions taken against Iran's merchant marine fleet have taken place "below the radar," with no overt takeovers, outright sinkings, or killings carried out.

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