ISIS-linked militants claim destroying Egyptian naval vessel with rocket attack

Smokes rises from an Egyptian coastguard vessel on the coast of northern Sinai, after apparently being hit by an ISIS rocket. The scene was photographed from the border of southern Gaza Strip with Egypt, on July 16, 2015.Reuters

A militant group in Egypt affiliated with the Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the firing of a rocket at an Egyptian naval vessel in the Mediterranean Sea, according to reports.

The group Sinai Province said it destroyed the ship, a statement which could not be immediately verified.

Photos which Sinai Province distributed online seem to show a rocket flying towards a ship and setting it on fire upon hitting it. The large explosion engulfed most of the vessel and then black smoke rose up, Fox News wrote.

In an earlier statement, Egypt's military spokesman, Brig. Gen. Mohammed Samir said the boat caught fire while exchanging gunshots with "terrorists" on the shore on Thursday.

There were no deaths reported from the incident, The Guardian reported.

The suspected militants escaped after firing at the vessel, according to military sources.

A witness in Gaza said dark grey smoke rose from a vessel off the coast while others said they heard blasts and gunfire.

Israel was quick to claim that it was not involved in the incident and was not asked to assist, an Israeli military spokesperson said.

Incidents at sea are "rare," but the Egyptian government has been involved in an "increasingly brazen" Islamist insurgency in the Sinai peninsula, located between Israel, the Gaza Strip, and the Suez Canal.

Sinai Province last year vowed allegiance to the Islamic State, which seeks to establish its own caliphate in war-torn countries such as Syria and Iraq. The ISIS also has a presence in Libya, a country neighbouring Egypt.

A hundred militants and at least 17 security personnel died in a day of attacks and encounters as claimed by the ISIS affiliate. Foreign media reported higher death figures.

Sinai Province has been executing high-profile attacks against Egyptian targets, prompting the government to draft a broad counter-terrorism law.

The measure makes the reporting of terrorism statistics that differ from that provided by the government illegal. It imposes a minimum of two-year jail to journalists who published figures that contradict data from state agencies.

A provision in the law criminalises the publication of "false news or data about any terrorist operations that contradicts the official statements released by the relevant authorities."