U.K. Maritime Authority Says Alleged Iranian Hijacking Over: Vessel Is Secure

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The MT Mercer Street tanker off the coast of the United Arab Emirates yesterday.
The MT Mercer Street tanker off the coast of the United Arab Emirates yesterday.Credit: Karim Sahib / AFP

An incident where Iranian-backed forces allegedly seized control of a tanker in the Gulf off the coast of the United Arab Emirates has ended safely, the U.K. Maritime Trade Operations announced on Wednesday. 

The vessel is safe and secure, the UKMTO added. 

On Tuesday, two maritime incidents that appear to be facilitated by Iranian-backed forces took place.

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Iranian-backed forces allegedly took control of an oil tanker in the Gulf off the coast of the United Arab Emirates, three maritime security sources said, after Britain's maritime trade agency reported a "potential hijack" in the area.

Two of the maritime sources identified the seized vessel as the Panama-flagged asphalt/bitumen tanker Asphalt Princess in an area in the Arabian Sea leading to the Strait of Hormuz, the conduit for about a fifth of the world's seaborne oil exports.

Tuesday's second incident involved six oil tankers, where they announced around the same time via 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. Two of the vessels — an oil tanker called the Golden Brilliant and an asphalt carrier called the Kamdhenu — reported via their Automatic Identification System trackers that they were “not under command.”

It wasn't immediately clear what was happening off the coast of Fujairah in the Gulf of Oman, but British sources told the Times newspaper that they also believe the Asphalt Princess had been hijacked and that they are "working on the assumption Iranian military or proxies boarded the vessel."

The Times defense editor tweeted: "British sources believe Asphalt Princess has been hijacked. They are working on the assumption Iranian military or proxies have boarded vessel."

Iran's Revolutionary Guards denied that Iranian forces or allies were involved in action against any ship off the UAE coast on Tuesday, saying the incident was a pretext for "hostile action" against Tehran, Iranian state television said on its website.

"According to information from security sources, Iran's armed forces and all branches of the Islamic Resistance in the Middle East have nothing to do with the incident in the Gulf of Oman," the Guards said in a statement carried by the website.

Oil tanker Mercer Street, which came under attack off the coast of Oman.Credit: Johan Victor

Abolfazl Shekarchi, Iran's senior armed forces spokesman, also denounced reports of maritime incidents and hijacking in the Gulf area as "a kind of psychological warfare and setting the stage for new bouts of adventurism," the Fars News Agency said.

In response to the events the White House stated that reports on the incident are deeply disturbing. The U.S. State Department said that while they are concerned it is "too early for us to offer a judgment." The department will continue to share information and coordinate with allies regarding any developments. The Emirati government did not immediately acknowledge the incident.

U.S. officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the United States military was expected to reposition at least one vessel in the general vicinity of the Asphalt Princess to keep a closer eye. The officials said this was to monitor the situation rather than to make any imminent military moves.

'Highly likely' Iran is behind attack

Meanwhile, 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 last week off the coast of Oman. "This attack disrupted and posed a risk to the safety and security of international shipping and was a clear violation of international law," the countries said in a letter to the 15-member council seen by Reuters. "This act must be condemned by the international community."

Diplomats said Britain was expected to raise the issue in a closed-door meeting of the Security Council in the coming days. The council is also coincidentally due to discuss maritime security in a public meeting on Monday, chaired by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. India is council president for August.

"The United Kingdom and Romania, along with regional and international partners, are conducting a thorough investigation of this attack. We will update the council in due course," Britain, Liberia and Romania said in the letter.

Israel's ambassador to the United States and the United Nations, Gilad Erdan, also reached out to the UN Security Council, saying Israel demands that it "Unequivocally condemn Iran for its murderous actions against civilian ships, to impose sanctions on it and to act against it in any way possible."

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken also promised a "collective response" to the attack. 

The United States was confident that the attack last Friday was carried out by Iran, Blinken said on Tuesday. However, the secretary of state said that the attack was one in a series of actions taken by Iran over many months, and that he was not sure if it was "anything new or augurs anything one way or another for the new government."

For his part, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said on Tuesday that "the Iranians must understand that it's not possible to sit calmly in Tehran and set the whole Middle East on fire. That is over." Israel, he added, also knows "how to act alone."

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