September 17, 2021

'Potential hijack' as armed attackers believed to have seized tanker off UAE coast

August 03, 2021

Armed personnel backed by Iran are suspected of seizing an oil tanker off the coast of the United Arab Emirates in what a Royal Navy threat centre called a “potential hijacking”.

The White House described reports about the Asphalt Princess as "deeply concerning".

But Iran's Revolutionary Guards denied that its forces or allies were involved in any incident, claiming the allegations were a pretext for "hostile action" against Tehran, state television reported on its website.

It comes at a time of heightened tensions following a suspected Iranian drone attack on an Israeli-linked tanker less than a week ago that left a British national and a Romanian dead.

The UK, Israel and the United States have accused Iran of the fatal assault and vowed to respond.

British officials - so far - don't appear to regard the targeting of the Panama-flagged Asphalt Princess, operated by a company based in Dubai, as a new escalation, though there are clearly concerns about a ship allegedly being seized by Iranian-linked gunmen.

A security source said a group of eight or nine individuals were believed to have boarded the ship. "It was an unauthorised boarding in the Gulf of Oman," the source said.

The tanker has no links to the UK or Israel.

Aurora Intel, an open source intelligence website, said the vessel is owned by Prime Tanker LLC, which also owns a tanker called the Riat. In 2019 - during a previous tanker crisis - Iran said it had seized the Riat vessel briefly because of alleged fuel smuggling.

It was not immediately clear why the Asphalt Princess was taken.

The Royal Navy's UK Maritime Trade Operations, which monitors shipping traffic in the Gulf, said the latest incident was a "potential hijack" that happened around 60 miles (97km) east of the port city of Fujairah.

A spokesperson for the UK's Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office said: "We are urgently investigating an incident on a vessel off the UAE coast."

Speaking in Washington, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said: "We're monitoring this developing situation, and we are in close touch with London and other partners who around the world who are also monitoring. The first reports are deeply concerning."

British special forces are already in the region following the suspected drone attack on the Mercer Street tanker last Thursday.

The team is assisting in the investigation into what happened.

The Mercer Street is Japanese owned, but was sailing with a Liberian Flag and is managed by Zodiac Maritime, a UK firm that is part of Israeli billionaire Eyal Ofer's Zodiac Group.

Iran's ambassador to the UK was summoned by the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office yesterday following the Mercer Street incident.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Iran must "face up to the consequences" of its actions, adding that the Mercer Street incident "was clearly an unacceptable and outrageous attack on commercial shipping, a UK national died".

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has promised to work with allies on a "concerted response".

Israel has also urged a tough reaction.

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The country is already locked in a shadow conflict with Iran.

Three other tankers linked to Israel have been targeted since February, while Iran has experienced a number of cyber attacks and mysterious explosions.

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