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UK agency says ‘hijack’ of ship off UAE is over

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DUBAI: The suspected hijacking of a ship in the Gulf of Oman has ended and the vessel is safe, a British maritime security agency said yesterday, days after a deadly attack on a tanker in the region. Oman yesterday named the vessel as the Panama-flagged Asphalt Princess, an asphalt and bitumen tanker, and said it had deployed aircraft and naval ships to the area.

Since February, Iran and its archenemy the Zionist entity have been accused of engaging in a “shadow war”, in which vessels linked to each nation have come under attack in waters around the Gulf in tit-for-tat exchanges. It follows a July 29 reported drone attack off Oman on the Zionist-linked MT Mercer Street tanker that left two dead, and which the United States and the Zionist entity blamed on Iran, but which was denied by Tehran.

An Omani maritime security source said yesterday the Asphalt Princess had been involved in “a hijacking incident in international waters”. “The Royal Air Force of Oman is carrying out sorties near the area, while the Royal Navy of Oman deployed a number of ships from its fleet to help secure international waters in the region,” the source said, quoted in a defense ministry statement.

“Boarders have left the vessel. Vessel is safe. Incident complete,” United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) tweeted, without elaborating. The shipping industry intelligence site Lloyd’s List reported that armed men had boarded the Asphalt Princess and ordered it to sail to Iran. The UKMTO said the “potential hijack” of the ship took place 60 miles east of UAE emirate of Fujairah as it headed towards the Strait of Hormuz, one of the world’s busiest waterways.

Richard Meade, editor of Lloyds List, told The Times that “armed forces” had boarded the vessel and had been “directing it towards Iran”. British and US naval operations were monitoring the situation, Lloyd’s List added. But Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said Tuesday that the “reported ‘incidents’ in the Persian Gulf and broader region appeared utterly suspicious”. “Reaffirming our strong commitment to regional stability and maritime security, Iran stands ready to offer assistance in case of any maritime accidents,” Khatibzadeh added.

Washington short of assigning blame for the latest episode, but State Department spokesman Ned Price said there had been “a very disturbing pattern of belligerence from Iran”. White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the United States was in close touch with Britain over the “deeply concerning” incident.

While Iran has denied any involvement in last week’s blast on the Liberian-flagged MT Mercer Street, the US and the Zionist entity both say an Iranian drone caused the explosion. Two crewmembers, from Britain and Romania, died on the MT Mercer Street, which is managed by prominent Zionist billionaire Eyal Ofer. Yesterday, Zionist Defense Minister Benny Gantz urged ambassadors in Jerusalem to “hold Iran accountable for its actions”.

He named a senior Iranian in the elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps he said was responsible for attacking the tanker and other strikes. “Saeed Ara Jani is the Head of the IRGC’s UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) Command. This is the man that is personally responsible for the terror attacks in the Gulf of Oman,” Gantz said.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has vowed a collective response against Iran over the Mercer Street tanker incident, which he called a “direct threat” to freedom of navigation. The tensions come as Iran on Tuesday inaugurated the Islamic republic’s eighth president, the ultraconservative cleric and prosecutor Ebrahim Raisi. He succeeded Hassan Rouhani, who sought to repair relations with the West, and whose administration unsuccessfully sought to negotiate a revival of a nuclear accord with the United States. – AFP

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