Israeli-owned ship docked in Dubai after mysterious blast

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The Israeli-owned cargo ship, Helios Ray, sits docked in port after arriving earlier in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Sunday, Feb. 28, 2021. The ship has been damaged by an unexplained blast at the gulf of Oman on Thursday. (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)

DUBAI – An Israeli-owned cargo ship that suffered a mysterious explosion in the Gulf of Oman came to Dubai's port for repairs Sunday, days after the blast that revived security concerns in Mideast waterways amid heightened tensions with Iran.

Associated Press journalists saw the hulking Israeli-owned MV Helios Ray sitting at dry dock facilities at Dubai's Port Rashid. Although the crew was unharmed in the blast, the vessel sustained two holes on its port side and two on its starboard side just above the waterline, according to American defense officials.

It remains unclear what caused the blast, but the incident comes amid sharply rising tension between the U.S. and Iran over its unraveling 2015 nuclear deal. Iran has sought to pressure President Joe Biden’s administration to grant the sanctions relief it received under the accord with world powers that former President Donald Trump abandoned.

From the shore, AP journalists could not immediately see damage to the vessel. The dock blocked the view of the vessel's starboard side down to the waterline and the port side could only be seen from a distance. The blue and white ship was anchored near Dubai’s storied floating hotel, the Queen Elizabeth 2. An Emirati coast guard vessel was seen sailing behind the ship, with Dubai police and Emirati armed forces vehicles parked nearby.

Emirati officials did not respond to requests for comment on the vessel docking in the country.

Friday's blast on the ship, a Bahamian-flagged roll-on, roll-off vehicle cargo vessel, recalled a string of attacks on foreign oil tankers in 2019 that the U.S. Navy blamed on Iran. Tehran denied any role in the suspected assaults, which happened near the Strait of Hormuz, a key oil chokepoint.

Several Israeli officials hinted that they believed Iran was responsible for the explosion on the ship. In a speech at an army base on Sunday, Israeli military Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi accused Iran of carrying out “operations against civilian targets," a charge the army later confirmed was in reference to the suspected ship attack.

Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz echoed concerns about Iran's threats against Israel, adding in a speech that the army was "working to build up our forces and is preparing itself for any scenario, including one in which we would need to take operative action to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.” In an interview with Israeli Kan TV the day before, he said the circumstances of the explosion pointed toward Iranian involvement but stressed it needed to be investigated further.