Report: Attempted Iranian hijacking in Gulf of Oman thwarted by vessel’s crew

The attempted Iranian hijacking of a tanker vessel in the Gulf of Oman that began on Tuesday was thwarted by the ship’s crew, who disabled its engines, preventing it from being diverted to Iran, according to a report in The Times. The hijackers fled the ship on Wednesday as it was approached by U.S. and Omani warships.

The first sign that something was amiss came on Tuesday evening, when the Automatic Identification System trackers of six tankers off the coast of Fujairah simultaneously announced that they were “not under command,” according to AP. Shortly afterward, Oman’s military received a report that the Panama-flagged Asphalt Princess had been hijacked in that area, and dispatched maritime patrol aircraft and naval vessels.

In a maritime radio recording shared with AP by commodities-pricing firm Argus Media, a crew member can be heard telling the Emirati coast guard that armed Iranians had boarded the tanker. “Iranian people are on board with ammunition,” the crew member says. “We are … now, drifting. We cannot tell you our exact ETA to Sohar,” the vessel’s listed port of destination in Oman. The call cuts off shortly afterwards.

Satellite tracking data showed the ship heading toward Iranian waters early on Wednesday, before stopping and changing course for Oman, according to AP.

The incident comes amid heightened tensions in the Arabian Sea following a fatal drone attack on an Israel-linked oil tanker off the coast of Oman on July 29.

On Wednesday, Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid named Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ drone command as being behind the attack on the Mercer Street, in which two crewmen were killed, one British and one Romanian.

The Israeli-managed “Mercer Street” oil tanker, struck by what U.S. experts say was an Iranian drone in the Arabian Sea on July 29, 2021. Credit: Johan Victor/MarineTraffic.
During a briefing to ambassadors of U.N. Security Council member states at the Israeli Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem, Gantz said, “For the first time, I will also expose the man who is directly responsible for the launch of suicide UAVs; his name is Saeed Ara Jani, and he is the head of the IRGC’s UAV command. The UAV command conducted the attack on the Mercer Street. Saeed Ara Jani plans and provides the training and equipment to conduct terror attacks in the region.”

Israel’s Ambassador to the United Nations Gilad Erdan called on Tuesday for the U.N. Security Council to “condemn and sanction” Iran for the attack, echoing a call by Gantz the day before.

During a Knesset address on Monday, Gantz said that Iran’s aggression “in the region in general and in the naval front specifically is getting worse.”

In the last year alone, he said, “there were no fewer than five attacks by Iran against international shipping, some conducted with suicide unmanned aerial vehicles produced by the Iranian military industry. Iranian drones also struck Saudi oil-production facilities.”

In the wake of the Mercer Street attack, he said, “there must be acts now against Iran, which is not only striving for nuclear weapons but also leading to a dangerous arms race.”

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Monday that there would be a “joint response” to the incident, which he called a “direct threat to freedom of navigation and commerce.”

Iran has denied any involvement in either attack, with Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh on Tuesday describing the recent maritime attacks in the Arabian Sea as “completely suspicious,” according to AP.

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