British agency warns of ‘potential hijacking’ of vessel off UAE

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British agency warns of ‘potential hijacking’ of vessel off UAE


A British shipping agency said a “potential hijack” was taking place off the coast of the Fujairah region of the United Arab Emirates in the Gulf of Oman, without giving details of the vessel (s) involved, as several other vessels also indicated that they were in difficulty. .
The United Kingdom’s Maritime Commercial Operations (UKMTO) had on Tuesday in an earlier warning notice, based on a third-party source, advised ships to exercise extreme caution due to an incident at about 60 nautical miles (111 km) east of Fujairah.

Maritime Authority Lloyd’s List and maritime intelligence firm Dryad Global have both identified the vessel involved in the incident as the Panamanian-flagged tanker Asphalt Princess. The owner of the vessel, listed as Glory International, based in the Emirati free zone, could not be immediately reached for comment on Tuesday evening.

Iranian-backed forces reportedly seized the ship, three maritime security sources told Reuters news agency.

Apparently in response to the incident, the official Iranian news agency IRNA quoted Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh as calling the recent maritime attacks in the region “completely suspect”. He denied that Iran was involved.

“Iranian naval forces are ready to provide aid and rescue in the region,” Khatibzadeh said.

The British Foreign Office is “urgently investigating” the incident aboard a ship off the United Arab Emirates, a spokesperson said on Tuesday.

The Arabian Sea area leads to the Strait of Hormuz, through which about a fifth of the world’s oil exports by sea transit. Fujairah is a major port in the region where ships can take on new oil cargoes, pick up supplies, or swap crews.

As of Tuesday afternoon, at least five vessels at sea between the United Arab Emirates and Iran updated their AIS tracking status to “Not Under Command,” according to vessel tracking data from Refinitiv and MarineTraffic.com.

Such a status generally indicates that a vessel is unable to maneuver due to exceptional circumstances.

It was not clear whether the data in question related to the reported incident.

Exchanging charges

The potential hijacking came amid heightened tensions between Iran and the West over its tattered nuclear deal and as commercial shipping in the region came under fire.

More recently, the US, UK and Israel accused Iran of a drone attack last week on an oil tanker off Oman that killed two people.

The US and UK said on Sunday they would work with their allies to respond to the attack on Mercer Street, a Japanese Liberian-flagged tanker operated by Israeli company Zodiac Maritime.

Iran has denied any involvement in the alleged drone attack and said on Monday it would respond quickly to any threats to its security.

Iran and Israel have exchanged various accusations of carrying out attacks on each other’s ships in recent months.

Gerry Northwood, a former British naval captain, said the incidents of recent weeks are alarming for international shipping.

Commenting on Tuesday’s incident, Northwood said that “if it is something related to Iran, there will be some kind of state intervention there.”

“If this is some kind of private hijacking, like the Somali hijackers, it will be up to the shipowners and the insurance companies to fix the problem,” he told Al Jazeera.

Tensions have grown in Gulf waters and between Iran and Israel since 2018, when then-President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from Tehran’s 2015 nuclear deal with six world powers and reimposed sanctions that crippled its economy.

Since 2019, the waters off Fujairah have seen a series of explosions and diversions. The US Navy has blamed Iran for a series of limpet mine attacks on ships that damaged tankers.

Also in 2019, Iran seized the British-flagged Stena Impero on July 19 in the Strait of Hormuz as it was heading from the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas to Dubai. The raid came after authorities in Gibraltar, a British overseas territory, seized an Iranian supertanker carrying $ 130 million in crude oil on suspicion of violating European Union sanctions by transporting the oil to Syria. Both ships were then released.

In July last year, an oil tanker wanted by the United States for allegedly circumventing sanctions against Iran was hijacked off the Emirati coast, after months of tensions between Iran and the United States.



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