Iraqi security forces say their explosives experts are working to neutralize a large mine discovered on an oil tanker in the Persian Gulf and evacuate its crew

In the latest incident underscoring the dangers ships face in the Persian Gulf, a mine was discovered on the hull of an oil tanker off the coast of Iraq.

BAGHDAD (AP) — Iraqi explosives experts were working to defuse a large mine discovered on an oil tanker in the Persian Gulf and evacuate its crew, authorities said Friday.

The statement came a day after two private security firms said sailors feared they had found a limpet mine on the MT Pola, a Liberian-flagged tanker in the waters off the Iraqi port of Basra. A limpet mine is a type of naval mine that attaches to the side of a ship, usually by a diver-member of special forces. It later explodes, and can significantly damage a vessel.

The ship with the mine has been identified as the Liberia-flagged Pola. A suspicious object was discovered on the vessel’s hull, according to a statement from owner Dynacom Tankers Management, which said all crew members are safe. It wasn’t immediately clear who may have placed the device 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. In December, 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 later this month. 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 near Iraq since Nov. 7 and is likely being used as floating storage for oil, ship-tracking data compiled by Bloomberg show. At the time the mine was discovered, the tanker appeared to be transferring cargo to the Nordic Freedom, owned by Nordic American Tankers Ltd.

The vessels were located in a waiting area for ships in international waters, about 28 nautical miles from Iraqi ports, according to the government statement. The ship with the mine — which wasn’t identified by name — was leased from Iraq’s state oil-marketing company, known as SOMO, it said.

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, also without naming the vessel or specifying what was attached to the hull.

(Updates throughout with details from Iraqi government statement.)
–With assistance from Julian Lee.

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