Hijackers have left targeted vessel in Gulf of Oman, British navy says

The British navy says the hijackers who boarded a vessel off the coast of the United Arab Emirates in the Gulf of Oman have left the targeted ship, without elaborating.

The notice on Wednesday came after the British military’s United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations warned of a “potential hijack” under unclear circumstances underway the night before. The group reported that the “incident [is] complete.” It did not provide further details.

It was not immediately clear who was responsible for the attempted ship hijack, or what ship was targeted. Shipping authority Lloyd’s List and maritime intelligence firm Dryad Global had both identified the seized vessel as 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.

The event unfolded amid heightened tensions between Iran and the West over Tehran’s tattered nuclear deal with world powers and as commercial shipping in the region has found itself caught in the crosshairs. Most recently, the U.S., the U.K. and Israel have blamed Iran for a drone attack on an oil tanker off the coast of Oman that killed two people. Iran has denied involvement.

The U.S. military’s Mideast-based 5th Fleet and the British Defence Ministry did not return calls for comment about the reported hijack. The Emirati government did not immediately acknowledge the incident.

Late on Tuesday, as the incident was underway, six oil tankers off the coast of Fujairah had 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 Gulf of Oman is near the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow mouth of the Persian Gulf through which a fifth of all oil passes. Fujairah, on the U.A.E.’s eastern coast, is a main port in the region for ships to take on new oil cargo, pick up supplies or trade out crew. For the past two years, the waters off Fujairah have seen a series of explosions and hijackings. The U.S. Navy blamed Iran for a series of limpet mine attacks on vessels that damaged tankers.

Apparently responding to the incident, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Saeed Khatibzadeh described the recent maritime attacks in the Persian Gulf as “completely suspicious.” He denied that Iran was involved.

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