Iranian-backed forces are believed to have seized an oil tanker in the Gulf off the coast of the United Arab Emirates, three Reuters maritime security sources said, after Britain’s maritime trade agency reported a “potential hijack” in the area on Tuesday.
Two of the sources identified the vessel as the Panama-flagged asphalt/bitumen tanker Asphalt Princess in an area in the Arabian Sea leading to the Strait of Hormuz, through which about a fifth of the world’s oil seaborne oil exports flow.
Earlier, Britain’s maritime trade agency reported that a “potential hijack” was unfolding off the coast of the United Arab Emirates’ Fujairah region.
A UK foreign office spokesperson said they are “urgently investigating” the incident.
Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) has denied that Iranian forces or their allies are involved in the incident, adding that it is a pretext for “hostile action” against Tehran.
The US State Department has said it is aware of the incident and is looking into it, adding that it will share information and coordinate with its partners.
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.”
The the United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations’ warning notice, based on a third party source, advised vessels to exercise extreme caution in the area, around 60 nautical miles east of the emirate of Fujairah.
Four other vessels — oil tankers called Queen Ematha, the Golden Brilliant, Jag Pooja and Abyss — 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.
The British military’s United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations only warned ships that “an incident is currently underway,” without elaborating. An Oman Royal Air Force Airbus C-295MPA, a maritime patrol aircraft, was flying over the area where the ships were, according to data from FlightRadar24.com.
The US military’s Mideast-based 5th Fleet and the British Defense Ministry did not immediately return calls for comment. The Emirati government did not immediately acknowledge the incident.
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 have killed civilians in the yearslong shadow war targeting commercial vessels in the region.
Iran denied playing any role in the incident, though Tehran and its allied militias have used similar “suicide” drones in attacks previously.
Israel, the US and United Kingdom vowed a “collective response” to the attack, without elaborating.