DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) – The British Navy on Tuesday warned of a “potential hijack” of a vessel off the coast of the United Arab Emirates in the Gulf of Oman, without giving further details.
The incident comes amid heightened tensions between Iran and the West over Tehran’s tattered nuclear deal with world powers and as commercial shipping in the region has come under fire. More recently, the US, UK and Israel accused Iran of a drone attack on an oil tanker off the coast of Oman that killed two people. Iran has denied any involvement.
The British Army’s UK Maritime Trade Operations initially warned ships on Tuesday that “an incident is currently underway” off the coast of Fujairah. Hours later, they said the incident was a “potential hijack,” but provided no further details.
Maritime Authority Lloyd’s List and maritime intelligence firm Dryad Global have both identified the vessel involved as the Panamanian-flagged Asphalt Princess tanker. 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.
The Middle East-based US Army 5th Fleet and the UK Department of Defense did not immediately respond to calls for comment. The UAE government did not immediately acknowledge the incident.
Previously, six tankers announced at around the same time via their automatic identification system trackers that they were “not under command,” according to MarineTraffic.com. Usually this means that a ship has lost power and can no longer steer.
“At the same time, if they are in the same neighborhood and in the same location, it happens very rarely,” said Ranjith Raja, an oil and shipping expert with data company Refintiv. “Not all ships would lose their engines or their ability to steer at the same time. “
One of the ships then began to move.
A Royal Air Force of Oman Airbus C-295MPA, a maritime patrol aircraft, circled for hours over water, according to data from FlightRadar24.com.
Apparently reacting to the incident, Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh called the recent maritime attacks in the Persian Gulf “completely suspicious.” He denied that Iran was involved.
“Iranian naval forces are ready to provide aid and rescue in the region,” Khatibzadeh said.
The event comes just days after a drone struck an oil tanker linked to an Israeli billionaire off the coast of Oman, killing two crew members. The West blamed Iran for the attack, which marked the first known assault to kill civilians in the years-long shadow war targeting commercial ships in the region.
Iran has denied playing a role in the incident, although Tehran and its allied militias have used similar “suicide” drones in past attacks.
Israel, the United States and the United Kingdom pledged a “collective response” to the attack, without giving details.
The Gulf of Oman is located near the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow mouth of the Persian Gulf through which a fifth of all oil passes. Fujairah, on the east coast of the United Arab Emirates, is a major port in the region where ships can take on new oil shipments, pick up supplies, or swap crews.
Over the past two years, 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.
In July 2019, Iran seized the British-flagged Stena Impero in the Strait of Hormuz on its way 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 that it was violating European Union sanctions by transporting the oil. in Syria. Both ships were then released.
Last year, an oil tanker wanted by the United States for allegedly circumventing sanctions against Iran was hijacked off the Emirati coast in July, after months of tensions between Iran and the United States. The ship and its crew ended up in Iran, although Tehran never acknowledged the incident.
And in January, armed Iranian Revolutionary Guard troops stormed a South Korean tanker and forced the ship to change course and proceed to Iran. While Iran insisted on stopping the ship for pollution, it came as Tehran sought to increase its influence over Seoul ahead of negotiations over billions of dollars in frozen Iranian assets in South Korean banks.
Associated Press writer Nasser Karimi in Tehran, Iran contributed to this report.
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