‘Potential hijack’ under way in Gulf of Oman days after Mercer Street attack

It was not immediately clear what was happening off the coast of Fujairah.

The Liberian-flagged oil tanker Mercer Street
The Liberian-flagged oil tanker Mercer Street

The Royal Navy has warned of a “potential hijack” off the coast of the United Arab Emirates in the Gulf of Oman – days after an attack on a tanker left a Briton and a Romanian dead.

It was not immediately clear what was happening off the coast of Fujairah, but the Royal Navy’s United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) said initially that an “incident” was under way, before upgrading it to a “potential hijack”.

The Associated Press reported that shipping authority Lloyd’s List and maritime intelligence firm Dryad Global both identified the vessel involved in the incident as Panama-flagged asphalt tanker Asphalt Princess.

Earlier, six tankers had reported through their Automatic Identification System trackers that they were “not under command”, according to MarineTraffic.com, which usually means a vessel has lost power and can no longer steer, AP said.

It comes after Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said Iran must immediately stop its “destabilising activity” in the Middle East, as Tehran faced international pressure over the Mercer Street attack last Thursday.

Nato condemned the attack on the Mercer Street tanker and called on Iran to “respect its international obligations”.

The European Commission also spoke out on the attack, although it said the circumstances of the incident in the Arabian Sea off the coast of Oman “have to be clarified”.

The UK, US, Romania and Israel have all blamed Iran for being behind the attack, which is believed to have involved an explosive-laden drone, but Tehran has denied involvement.

A Nato spokesman said: “Freedom of navigation is vital for all Nato allies, and must be upheld in accordance with international law.

“The United Kingdom, the United States, and Romania have concluded that Iran is highly likely responsible for this incident.

“Allies remain concerned by Iran’s destabilising actions in the region, and call on Tehran to respect its international obligations.”

(AP Graphic)

Mr Raab welcomed the Nato statement, adding: “We believe this was a deliberate, targeted attack by Iran – it must end its destabilising actions immediately.”

European Commission spokeswoman Nabila Massrali joined the condemnation and told reporters: “The exact circumstances of this attack have to be clarified and we take note of investigations carried out by the United States, the UK and Israel – this is an action that was against freedom of navigation in this area, and of course unacceptable.

“We oppose any action that would be detrimental to peace and stability in this area and the EU will continue to follow developments closely.”

The strike on the vessel has been linked to tensions between Iran and Israel which have seen at least three other Israeli-linked ships targeted since February.

The Mercer Street is managed by London-based Zodiac Maritime, part of Israeli billionaire Eyal Ofer’s Zodiac Group.

The incident came at a time of political change in Iran, with hardliner Ebrahim Raisi set to be inaugurated as the new president, succeeding Hassan Rouhani.

Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei officially endorsed his protege Mr Raisi on Tuesday.

He advised Mr Raisi, a former judiciary chief, to “empower the country’s poor people and improve the national currency”.

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