According to three maritime security sources, Iranian-backed forces are believed to have seized an oil tanker in the Gulf off the coast of the United Arab Emirates, after Britain’s maritime trade agency reported a “potential hijack” in the area on Tuesday.
According to the Fars News Agency, Abolfazl Shekarchi, Iran’s senior armed forces spokesman, reports of maritime incidents and hijacking in the Gulf area are “a kind of psychological warfare and setting the stage for new bouts of adventurism.”
Two maritime sources identified the seized vessel as the Panama-flagged asphalt/bitumen tanker Asphalt Princess, which was discovered in an area of the Arabian Sea leading to the Strait of Hormuz, which transports roughly one-fifth of the world’s seaborne oil exports.
The US State Department expressed concern and said it was investigating reports of a maritime incident in the Gulf of Oman, but it was too early to pass judgement. According to a spokesperson for the British Foreign Office, an incident on a vessel off the coast of the UAE was being “urgently investigated.”
According to US officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity, the US military is considering repositioning at least one vessel in the general vicinity of the Asphalt Princess to keep a closer eye on it.
The officials stated that this was not unusual and that the intent was to monitor the situation rather than to make any immediate military moves.
Tensions in the region have risen since an attack last week on an Israeli-managed tanker off the coast of Oman killed two crew members and was blamed on Iran by the US, Israel, and Britain. Iran has denied any involvement.
The United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO), in a warning notice based on a third-party source, had earlier reported a “potential hijack” and advised ships to exercise extreme caution due to the incident around 60 nautical miles east of the UAE’s Fujairah emirate.
REPORTS OF HIJACKING
The Asphalt Princess was also hijacked, according to the Times of London, citing British sources who said they were “working on the assumption Iranian military or proxies boarded the vessel.”
The Fifth Fleet of the United States Navy and UAE authorities did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Reuters.
In an online appearance, Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister alluded to the reports by saying that he sees an emboldened Iran acting negatively in the region, including endangering shipping. L1N2PA1RV
On Tuesday at least five ships in the sea between the UAE and Iran updated their AIS tracking status to “Not Under Command”, according to Refinitiv ship tracking data. Such a status generally indicates a ship is unable to manoeuvre due to exceptional circumstances.
Nour News, affiliated with Iran’s top national security body, quoted a senior navy official as saying “the movement of commercial vessels is quite normal and no official naval sources or countries in the Persian Gulf have reported any incidents”.
The reports of maritime incidents were “suspicious,” according to Iran’s foreign ministry, which warned against any attempt to create a “false atmosphere” against Tehran.
The United States and the United Kingdom said on Sunday that they would collaborate with their allies to respond to last week’s attack on the Mercer Street, a Liberian-flagged, Japanese-owned petroleum product tanker managed by Israeli-owned Zodiac Maritime.
Iran denied any involvement in that suspected drone strike and said it would respond to any threat against its security.
On Tuesday, Britain, Romania, and Liberia told the United Nations Security Council that it was “highly likely” that Iran used one or more drones to carry out a deadly tanker attack off the coast of Oman last week. more info
US officials have privately stated that they are closely monitoring the situation but do not anticipate a military response for the time being.
Tensions in the Gulf and between Iran and Israel have risen since 2018, when then-President Donald Trump withdrew the US from Tehran’s 2015 nuclear deal with six world powers and reimposed crippling sanctions.
Iran and Israel, longtime adversaries, have exchanged accusations of carrying out attacks on each other’s vessels in recent months.