Royal Navy warns of ‘potential hijack’ of ship in Gulf of Oman

An Emirati Coast Guard vessel patrols off Fujairah, United Arab Emirates, Wednesday, Aug. 4, 2021. The British navy warned of a “potential hijack” of another ship off the coast of the United Arab Emirates in the Gulf of Oman near Fujairah on Tuesday, though the circumstances remain unclear. (AP Photo/Jon Gambrell)
7:21am, Wed 04 Aug 2021
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The Royal Navy has warned of the “potential hijack” of a ship off the coast of the United Arab Emirates in the Gulf of Oman, though the circumstances remain unclear.

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 found itself in the crosshairs.

Most recently, the US, the UK and Israel blamed Iran for a drone attack on an oil tanker off the coast of Oman that killed two people, including one Briton. Iran has denied involvement.

The British military’s United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations initially warned ships on Tuesday that “an incident is currently under way” off the coast of Fujairah. Hours later, authorities said the incident was a “potential hijack” but provided no further details.

(AP Graphic)

Shipping authority Lloyd’s List and maritime intelligence firm Dryad Global identified the vessel involved as Panama-flagged asphalt tanker Asphalt Princess. The vessel’s owner, listed as Emirati free zone-based Glory International, could not immediately be reached for comment.

Satellite-tracking data for the vessel showed it slowly heading towards Iranian waters off the port of Jask early on Wednesday, according to MarineTraffic.com.

Earlier, six oil tankers announced around the same time through their Automatic Identification System trackers that they were “not under command”, according to MarineTraffic.com. That typically means a vessel has lost power and can no longer steer.

“At the same time, if they are in the same vicinity and in the same place, then very rarely that happens,” said Ranjith Raja, an oil and shipping expert with data firm Refintiv. “Not all the vessels would lose their engines or their capability to steer at the same time.”

One of the vessels later began moving.

An Oman Royal Air Force Airbus C-295MPA, a maritime patrol aircraft, flew in circles for hours over the waters, according to data from FlightRadar24.com.

Apparently responding to the incident, Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh called recent maritime attacks in the Persian Gulf “completely suspicious”. He denied that Tehran was involved.

“Iran’s naval forces are ready for help and rescue in the region,” Mr Khatibzadeh said.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters it was “too early for us to offer a judgement just yet”, but citing the recent assault on an oil tanker linked to an Israeli billionaire that killed two crew members in nearby waters, he added: “We have seen a very disturbing pattern of belligerence from Iran, including belligerence in the maritime domain.”

The West has blamed Iran for launching the drone strike last week on the oil tanker off the coast of Oman, the first known attack to have killed civilians in the years-long shadow war targeting commercial vessels in the region.

Iran denied any role, though Tehran and its allied militias have used similar “suicide” drones in past attacks.

Israel, the US and UK have vowed an unspecified “collective response” to the attack.

The Gulf of Oman is near the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow mouth of the Persian Gulf through which a fifth of all oil passes. Fujairah, on the UAE’s eastern coast, is a main port in the region for ships to take on new oil cargo, pick up supplies or trade out crew.

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