UK 'Urgently Investigating' Incident on Ship Between UAE, Iran Amid 'Hijacking' Report

The United Kingdom's Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) said it was tracking with urgency an incident that its military's maritime tracker identified involving at least one ship traversing the tense Gulf of Oman between the United Arab Emirates and Iran.

"We are urgently investigating an incident on a vessel off the UAE coast," an FCDO spokesperson told Newsweek.

The comment came after the Defense Ministry's U.K. Maritime Trade Operations reported on Tuesday that "an Incident is currently underway" 61 nautical miles east of the UAE's Fujairah coast. The incident was described as "non-piracy" and then also classified as a "potential hijacking" by the monitor.

Meanwhile, other independent maritime trackers began to show that a number of vessels in the vicinity of the incident were reporting "Not under command," meaning the crew was unable to maneuver as needed, often due to an exceptional circumstance.

These ships included oil tankers Hong Kong-flagged Golden Brilliant and Marshall Islands-flagged Front Crown, both of which have since reported they were "underway using engine." Another tanker in the immediate area, the Singapore-flagged Maersk Messina, shared the name of a ship at the center of a legal battle involving the rightful owner of Iranian gas cargo seized last year by the U.S., according to data compiled last year by Bloomberg News, though it was not immediately clear if this was the same vessel.

Also nearby was the Panama-flagged asphalt tanker Princess Asphalt, which media reports have begun to focus on as being at the center of the incident.

Lloyd's List, a long-running London-based journal dedicated to maritime intelligence issues, later said Tuesday it could confirm that Iran had seized the Princess Asphalt, citing an unnamed source.

Meanwhile, Amwaj Media, a Middle East outlet that often provides coverage with insider access to Iran, Iraq and other countries in the region, cited Iranian sources as saying the Islamic Republic had nothing to do with the latest incident, with one source alleging a potential cyberattack due to navigation issues among several ships.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Saeed Khatibzadeh said Tuesday he was "skeptical of reports of a series of security incidents involving ships in the Persian Gulf and the Sea of ​​Oman, and warned against creating a false atmosphere for specific political purposes," according to the ministry.

"The Iranian Navy is ready to provide naval support services if needed, by announcing assistance and assistance to transit ships in the region," Khatibzadeh said. "In the event of a problem with the navigation systems, the Islamic Republic of Iran is ready to assist and investigate the matter closely."

Revolutionary Guard spokesperson Brigadier General Abolfazl Shekarchi also later addressed the incident directly in an interview with the semi-official Fars News Agency.

"Contradictory news from some Western, Zionist and Saudi-based media on any maritime insecurity and hijacking in the waters of the region are a kind of psychological operation aimed at setting the scene for new adventurism."

And he too offered Tehran's support to any vessels in distress off the coast of the Islamic Republic.

"The Armed Forces of the Islamic Republic of Iran, while assisting the safe movement of merchant ships, have full intelligence and are fully prepared for any suspicious movements," Shekarchi said. "The powerful navies of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and the Islamic Republic of Iran are ready to provide any assistance and dispatch relief units if necessary and at the request of foreign vessels."

UAE, Gulf, Oman, Mercer, vessel, attack
The United Kingdom's Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) said it was tracking with urgency an incident that its military's maritime tracker identified involving at least one ship traversing the tense Gulf of Oman between the United Arab Emirates and Iran. Above, a child rides a swing as the Israeli-linked Japanese-owned tanker MT Mercer Street is seen off the port of the Gulf Emirate of Fujairah in the United Arab Emirates on August. On July 29, two crew members of the MT Mercer Street, managed by a prominent Israeli businessman's company, were killed in what appears to be a drone attack off Oman, the vessel's London-based operator and the U.S. military said, with Israel blaming Iran. KARIM SAHIB/AFP/Getty Images

Speaking in Washington, State Department spokesperson Ned Price said it was "far too premature for us to render a judgment" on whether or not Iran was involved in the incident.

"These reports are just emerging and they are concerning, certainly, at first blush," Price said. "We are looking to learn more, we will continue to share information and coordinate with our partners as we learn more."

He said the U.S. has, however, "seen a very disturbing pattern of belligerence from Iran, including belligerence in the maritime domain."

The White House also weighed in on the situation, with Press Secretary Jen Psaki telling reporters that U.S. officials "monitoring the developing situation, and we are in close touch with our partners in London and other partners around the world who are also monitoring."

"The first reports are deeply concerning," she added. "We are fully engaged and will be as the situation is developing."

At a third press gathering, Pentagon Press Secretary said the Defense Department was "looking into reports that there were potentially additional incidents in the Gulf of Oman," but could not offer details nor confirm that this event was linked to other incidents the U.S. has linked to Iran.

The latest events follow a series of incidents and apparent attacks in the strategically located Gulf of Oman, which connects the Arabian Sea to the strategic Strait of Hormuz, the world's most important maritime oil traffic chokepoint and the center of geopolitical tensions involving Iran and its foes across the waters and in the West.

On Thursday, another vessel, the Israeli-linked Japanese-owned tanker MT Mercer Street, was targeted in an apparent drone attack, killing two in an act blamed on Iran by both the U.S. and its ally Israel.

On Monday, Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz discussed Tehran's alleged role during a speech to the Knesset, where he said in a tweet that he had "emphasized that the world must act now to stop the increasing threat of Iran destabilizing the region, sparking an arms race, attacking innocent civilians and harming the global economy."

Israel has also been accused of targeting Iran-linked ships including a number of ships suspected of transporting oil to Syria in March.

The incidents are part of what appeared to be a two-year wave of murky attacks at sea that began with Spring 2019 incidents in the Gulf of Oman blamed by the U.S. and several allies on Iran. That same year, the U.K. seized an Iranian tanker accused of using the Strait of Gibraltar to send oil to Syria, and Iran's Revolutionary Guard commandeered a U.K.-flagged tanker accused of violating maritime rules in the Strait of Hormuz.

Tensions have continued as the U.K. and other Western parties to a 2015 nuclear deal with Iran fail to live up to normalized trade ties with the Islamic Republic in the wake of the United States' 2018 exit from the deal. Washington's exit impeded Tehran's ability to export oil under the threat of U.S. sanctions for importing nations.

Since coming to office in January, President Joe Biden, who served as vice president when the nuclear deal was reached under former President Barack Obama, as officially rejected the "maximum pressure" approach pursued by his immediate predecessor, former President Donald Trump. But the Biden administration has yet to reenter the accord as his officials negotiate indirectly with Iran through rounds of talks in the Austrian capital of Vienna.

Israel, which also has new leadership under Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, who took office in June, has expressed opposition to efforts by its ally, the U.S., to reenter any nuclear-related agreement with Iran.

And also on Tuesday, Iran too saw a succession of political leadership as President Ebrahim Raisi took over from former President Hassan Rouhani, who oversaw the initial nuclear deal efforts alongside Obama. Raisi, who was skeptical of the agreement, has since reaffirmed his commitment to reviving the pact through diplomacy in Vienna, an endeavor supported by the country's top authority, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

This is a developing news story. More information will be added as it becomes available.