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Iraqi Explosives experts were working to defuse a large mine discovered on a tanker in the Persian Gulf and evacuate its crew, authorities said Friday.

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

The Iraqi statement said the mine was connected to a tanker leased from the Iraqi Petroleum Marketing Company SOMO that was refueling on another ship. Iraq’s naval forces were making “a great effort to accomplish the mission” safely, said the Iraqi Security Media Cell, which is affiliated with the country’s security forces.

An aerial photo shows tankers loading crude oil at the Al-Basra offshore terminal in Basra, Iraq, on Sunday, Dec. 27, 2020. (AP)

It was the first official Iraqi confirmation that a mine was discovered on an Iraqi tanker carrying fuel in the Persian Gulf to another vessel. It did not identify any vessels or provide further details.

The discovery came amid heightened tension between Iran and the United States in the final days of President Donald Trump’s administration.

The United States has already conducted overflights of B-52 bombers and sent a nuclear submarine to the Persian Gulf over what Trump officials describe as the possibility of an Iranian strike on the first anniversary of the US drone strike in Baghdad that killed to a senior Iranian general. and a prominent leader of the Iraqi militia.

Iraq is celebrating the anniversary with a series of events this week.

On Thursday, United Kingdom Marine Trade Operations, an organization under the British Royal Navy, said on its website that an “unknown object” had been attached to the hull of a ship in the vicinity of the Iraqi port of Khor Al-Zubair, without provide more information.

The map locates the tanker. (Associated Press)

The Pola serves as floating storage for fuel oil for the Iraqi State Petroleum Marketing Organization, said Sudharsan Sarathy, a senior oil analyst at data analytics firm Refinitiv. Smaller vessels transport the fuel oil to the ship, which then performs ship-to-ship transfers in the Persian Gulf to customers.

Sarathy said the Pola was conducting a ship-to-ship transfer with the MT Nordic Freedom, a Bermuda-flagged tanker.

Friday’s statement said an explosives handling team from Iraq’s Interior Ministry was flown to the scene after a “foreign body” was observed attached to one of the ships in the holding area in Iraq’s international waters. , 28 nautical miles from Iraqi oil ports.

Despite the strong waves, the ship that received the fuel was evacuated while the Iraqi team was still working to neutralize the mine and evacuate the refueling ship, he said.

In 2019, the United States blamed Iran for a series of limpet mine attacks on oil tankers near the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow mouth of the Persian Gulf through which 20 percent of all the world’s oil passes. Iran denies being involved.

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