Oman provided first official confirmation on Wednesday that the Asphalt Princess tanker was involved in a hijacking in the Arabian Sea after Britain’s maritime trade agency earlier reported the incident was over.
Three maritime security forces had told Reuters on Tuesday that the Asphalt Princess tanker had been seized by suspected Iranian-backed forces, which Iran denied.
WARNING 001/AUG/2021 Update 002— United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) (@UK_MTO) August 4, 2021
Category: Incident – Potential Hijack – Non Piracy
Description: Boarders have left the vessel. Vessel is safe. Incident completehttps://t.co/toURu6jSzg#MaritimeSecurity #marsec pic.twitter.com/IvC44GOiic
Oman’s Maritime Security Center said on Twitter that it had received information about the Panama-flagged Asphalt Princess being subjected “to a hijacking incident in international waters in the Gulf of Oman” and that the sultanate’s navy had deployed several ships to help secure international waters.
“The Royal Air Force of Oman is carrying out sorties near the area, and the Royal Navy of Oman deployed several ships to help secure international waters in the region,” it added.
The boarding took place in an area in the Arabian Sea leading to the Strait of Hormuz, the conduit for about a fifth of the world’s sea-borne oil exports.
Iran’s senior armed forces spokesman, Abolfazl Shekarchi, on Tuesday 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.”
Tensions have simmered in the region after a suspected drone attack last week on an Israeli-managed tanker off the Omani coast killed two crew and was blamed on Iran by the United States, Israel and Britain. Iran denied responsibility.
The United States and Britain have said they would work with allies to respond to the attack on the Mercer Street, a Liberian-flagged, Japanese-owned petroleum product tanker.
Tehran has said it would respond to any threat against its security.
Regional tensions have worsened since 2018, when Washington re-imposed sanctions on Iran after abandoning a 2015 nuclear deal between Tehran and global powers.