British Navy Group: Hijackers left ship off UAE coast

FUJAIRAH, United Arab Emirates – Hijackers who captured a vessel off the coast of the United Arab Emirates in the Gulf of Oman left the targeted vessel on Wednesday, the British Navy reported, as radio traffic The tape appeared to reveal a crew member on board saying Iranian gunmen stormed the asphalt tanker.

The incident – described by the British Army’s UK Maritime Trade Operations the day before as a ‘potential hijack’ – rekindled fears of an escalation in Middle Eastern waters and ended with as much mystery as it started.

Clues to what happened to the Panama-flagged asphalt tanker, called the Asphalt Princess, began to emerge with the maritime radio recording, obtained by commodity pricing firm Argus Media and shared with the Associated Press. In the audio, a crew member can be heard telling the Emirati Coast Guard that five or six armed Iranians had boarded the tanker.

“Iranians are on board with ammunition,” said the crew member. “We are… now adrift. We cannot tell you exactly our ETA for (going to) Sohar ”, the port of Oman listed on the ship’s tracker as the destination. It was not clear whether the crew members, whom he identified as Indian and Indonesian, were in immediate danger.

No one has taken responsibility for the brief seizure, which underscored rising tensions as Iran and the United States seek to resolve their standoff over Tehran’s 2015 tattered nuclear deal with world powers.

Apparently in response to the incident, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh on Tuesday denied that Iran had played a role. He called the recent maritime attacks in the Persian Gulf “completely suspect”.

In recent years, growing tensions have played out in Persian Gulf waters, where last week a drone attack on an oil tanker linked to an Israeli billionaire off the coast of Oman killed two crew members. The West blamed Iran for the raid, which marked the first known deadly assault in the multi-year shadow war targeting ships in Middle Eastern waters. Iran has denied any involvement.

Late Tuesday, intruders boarded the Asphalt Princess sailing off Fujairah, authorities said. The official Army of Oman news agency said it received reports that the Asphalt Princess had been hijacked and immediately dispatched Royal Air Force maritime patrol planes and warships “to help to the securing of international waters “.

In recorded radio traffic, when the Emirati Coast Guard asks the crew member what the Iranian gunmen were doing on board, he says he “cannot understand the (Iranians)”, his voice muffled, before d ‘try to hand the radio over to someone else. The call is then disconnected.

Possible signs of unrest began to emerge that evening when six tankers off the coast of Fujairah announced at around the same time via their automatic identification system trackers that they were “not under command.” , according to Usually this means that a ship has lost power and can no longer steer.

Satellite tracking data from the Asphalt Princess had shown it gradually heading for Iranian waters off the port of Jask early Wednesday, according to Hours later, however, it stopped and changed course to Oman, just before the British Navy group declared the hijackers had left and the ship was now ‘safe’.

The owner of the Asphalt Princess, listed as Glory International, an Emirati free zone, could not immediately be reached for comment.

The U.S. Army’s 5th Fleet based in the Middle East and the UK Department of Defense also did not respond to requests for comment. The UAE government did not immediately acknowledge the incident.

The Gulf of Oman lies near the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow mouth of the Persian Gulf through which a fifth of all traded oil passes. Fujairah, on the east coast of the United Arab Emirates, is a major port in the region where ships can take on new oil shipments, pick up supplies, or swap crews.

In the past two years, after then-President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the Iran nuclear deal in 2018 and imposed crushing sanctions, the waters off Fujairah have been the scene of ‘a series of explosions and hijackings. The US Navy has blamed Iran for a series of limpet mine attacks on ships that damaged tankers.

In the summer of 2019, Iranian Revolutionary Guard troops arrested a British-flagged tanker, the Stena Impero, near the Strait of Hormuz. Last year, an oil tanker wanted by the United States for allegedly circumventing sanctions against Iran was hijacked off the Emirati coast and then ended up in Iran, although Tehran has never recognized the incident.

And in January, armed Iranian Revolutionary Guard troops stormed a South Korean tanker and forced the ship to change course and proceed to Iran. While Iran has claimed to have detained the ship due to pollution concerns, it appeared to link the seizure to negotiations over billions of dollars in Iranian assets frozen in South Korean banks.


DeBre reported from Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

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