A British maritime agency stated that a “potential hijacking incident” was taking place off the coast of the Fujairah region of the United Arab Emirates in the Gulf of Oman, but did not provide detailed information about the vessel because several other vessels also stated that they were in trouble.

The United Kingdom Maritime Trade Organization (UKMTO) issued a warning notice based on third-party sources early on Tuesday, advising ships to take extra care in the event of an accident about 60 nautical miles (111 kilometers) east of Fujairah.

The shipping authority Lloyd’s Register and Dryad Global, a maritime newspaper company, both identified the vessel involved in the incident as the asphalt tanker Asphalt Princess flying the Panamanian flag. Late on Tuesday, the ship’s owner could not be immediately contacted, and the ship’s owner was listed as Glory International, headquartered in the UAE Free Zone.

Three maritime security sources told Reuters that Iranian-backed forces are believed to have seized the ship.

The Iranian state-run Islamic Republic of Iran news agency quoted Saeed Khatibzadeh, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as saying that the recent maritime attack in the area was “completely suspicious” and this was clearly a response to the incident. He denied that Iran was involved.

“The Iranian Navy is ready to provide help and rescue in the area,” Khatibzadeh said.

A spokesperson said on Tuesday that the British Foreign Office is “urgently investigating” the incident off the coast of the UAE.

The Arabian Sea leads to the Strait of Hormuz, and about one-fifth of the world’s seaborne oil exports flow through the Strait of Hormuz. Fujairah is the main port in the region, and ships can load new oil cargo, extract supplies, or trade crews.

According to Refinitiv ship tracking data and MarineTraffic.com, at least five ships in the waters between the UAE and Iran updated their AIS tracking status to “out of command” on Tuesday afternoon.

This state usually indicates that the ship cannot be maneuvered due to special circumstances.

It is not clear whether the relevant data has any connection with the reported incident.

Blame each other

The potential hijacking comes as tensions between Iran and the West are heightened by its broken nuclear agreement, and commercial shipping in the region finds itself in its crosshairs.

Recently, the United States, Britain and Israel accused Iran of launching a drone attack on an oil tanker near Oman last week, killing two people.

The United States and the United Kingdom said on Sunday that they would work with their allies to respond to the attack on Mercer Street, a Japanese oil products tanker flying the Liberian flag and managed by Israel-owned Zodiac Maritime.

Iran denied involvement in the suspected drone attack and said on Monday that it will quickly respond to any threats to its safety.

In recent months, Iran and Israel have exchanged allegations of attacks on each other’s ships.

Former British Navy Captain Greenoswood said the events in recent weeks were shocking to the international shipping industry.

Commenting on the incident on Tuesday, Northwood said: “If this has something to do with Iran, there will be some kind of state intervention there.”

“If this is some kind of private hijacking, like the Somali hijackers, it will be a matter for the shipowner and the insurance company,” he told Al Jazeera.

Since 2018, tensions in the Gulf waters and between Iran and Israel have intensified. The then President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the nuclear agreement reached by Tehran in 2015 with six world powers and re-implemented regimes that weakened its economy. Cut.

Since 2019, a series of explosions and hijackings have occurred in the waters of Fujairah. The US Navy accused Iran of conducting a series of mine attacks on ships that damaged the tanker.

Also in 2019, Iran seized the British flag Stena Impero in the Strait of Hormuz on July 19, and the ship was heading from Iran’s Bandar Abbas to Dubai. The authorities of Gibraltar, a British overseas territory, seized an Iranian supertanker carrying 130 million U.S. dollars of crude oil, suspecting that the tanker had violated EU sanctions by transporting oil to Syria. Both ships were later released.

In July last year, after months of tensions between Iran and the United States, an oil tanker sought by the United States for allegedly evading sanctions on Iran was hijacked off the coast of the UAE.

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