Fujairah, United Arab Emirates – Hijackers who seized a ship off the coast of the United Arab Emirates in the Gulf of Oman abandoned the target ship on Wednesday, the British Navy detailed.
The British Army’s United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations reported that the incident, which it described as a “probable kidnapping” the night before, was now “complete”.
“The ship is safe,” the group said without identifying the ship. Shipping authority Lloyd’s List and maritime intelligence firm Dryad Global have both named the hijacked vessel as the Panama-flagged asphalt tanker Asphalt Princess. The vessel’s owner, listed as Emirati free zone-based Glory International, could not immediately be reached for comment.
According to MarineTraffic.com, satellite-tracking data from the Asphalt Princess showed a gradual move from the port of Jask to Iranian waters early Wednesday. Later, however, it stalled and turned towards Oman, before the British Naval Group announced the intruders had left.
Two Oman Royal Air Force aircraft, identified as Airbus C-295MPA and Lockheed C-130H Hercules, took off over water from Fujairah on Wednesday following the incident, according to data from FlightRadar24.com.
It was not immediately clear who was responsible for the ship hijacking attempt, which came amid heightened tensions between Iran and the West over Tehran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers. In the past few years, commercial shipping has become increasingly stuck in the crosshairs in important Persian Gulf waterways.
Recently, the US, UK and Israel have blamed Iran for a drone attack on an oil tanker belonging to an Israeli billionaire off the coast of Oman in which two people were killed. The raid marked the first known fatality in shadow warfare targeting ships in the waters of the Middle East. Iran has denied involvement.
Apparently reacting to Tuesday’s ship seizure, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh described recent maritime strikes in the Persian Gulf as “totally suspicious”. He denied that Iran played any role.
The US Army’s Middle East-based 5th Fleet and the British Defense Ministry did not return calls for comment about the alleged hijacking. The Emirati government did not immediately acknowledge the incident.
Late on Tuesday, as the reported hijacking was underway, six oil tankers off the coast of Fujairah announced via their Automatic Identification System trackers at around the same time that they were “not under command”, according to MarineTraffic. com. This usually means that a ship has lost power and can no longer move.
The Gulf of Oman is near the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow mouth of the Persian Gulf, through which one-fifth of all oil passes. Fujairah, on the east coast of the United Arab Emirates, is a main port in the region where ships move to pick up new oil cargo, pick up supplies or trade crew.
For the past two years, the waters of Fujairah have seen a series of explosions and kidnappings, after then-President Donald Trump withdrew the US from Iran’s nuclear deal and imposed crushing sanctions on the country. The US Navy blames Iran for a series of lame mine attacks on ships that damaged tankers.
In the summer of 2019, soldiers of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard detain a British-flagged tanker, Stena Impero, near the Strait of Hormuz – a raid that saw an Iranian tanker seized off the coast of Gibraltar by Britain on suspicion had gone. Syria is violating EU sanctions.
Last year, an oil tanker sought by the US for allegedly bypassing sanctions on Iran was hijacked off the Emirati coast and later ended up in Iran, although Tehran never acknowledged the incident.
And in January, armed Iranian Revolutionary Guard troops stormed a South Korean tanker and forced the ship to change course and travel to Iran. While Iran claims it has detained the ship over pollution concerns, it appears to link the seizure to negotiations over billions of dollars in Iranian assets frozen in South Korean banks.