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UK Maritime Agency Reports 'Potential Hijack' of Bitumen Tanker 'Asphalt Princess' in Arabian Sea

Oil Tanker   - Sputnik International, 1920, 03.08.2021
UK Maritime Trade Operations reported the "potential hijack" on Tuesday of an oil tanker in the Arabian Sea near the Emirati port of Fujairah.
According to Reuters, two maritime security sources told the outlet that "Iranian-backed forces" are suspected of the attack. Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Saeed Khatibzadeh has called the incident "suspicious" and urged against creating a "false atmosphere" against Tehran.
“Iran’s naval forces are ready for help and rescue in the region,” Khatibzadeh added.
Also citing a security source, Sky News reported that eight or nine individuals were believed to be on board the ship, which is named Asphalt Princess, as part of what the source called an "unauthorized boarding." Lloyd's List also reported, citing "sources directly involved in the incident," that the ship had been ordered to sail toward Iran.
The ship, which flies under a Panamanian flag and weighs in at a rather small 9,748 tons, is used for transporting bitumen and asphalt products, which are made as part of the same process that creates hydrocarbon fuels like octane and butane out of crude oil. It was built in 1976.
According to the website Marine Traffic, Asphalt Princess was sailing from Khor Fakkan, United Arab Emirates, to Sohar, Oman, a port just 65 miles to the south. However, its last reported location was in the center of the Gulf of Oman, about 70 miles east of Khor Fakkan, 65 miles north of Sohar, and 45 miles south of the Iranian city of Bandar-e-Jask.
Concurrent to the crisis on the Asphalt Princess is another situation in the Gulf of Oman involving four ships - the Singapore-flagged tanker Golden Brilliant, Guyana flagged tanker Queen Ematha,  India-flagged tanker Jag Pooja and the Vietnam-flagged tanker Abyss - all of which were reported Tuesday as being "not under command" due to loss of steering ability. The United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) is monitoring the situation and has reported it as a "non-piracy incident."
Last week, another incident occurred in the same waters, which Western powers have also accused Tehran of being behind. On Friday, the Liberian-flagged oil tanker Mercer Street was struck by a drone in the Gulf of Oman, killing a British and a Romanian citizen. The Japanese-owned ship is operated by Zodiac Maritime, which is part of the Zodiac Group owned by Israeli billionaire Eyal Ofer, leading to claims by Tel Aviv that the attack was one against Israel.
Israeli media reported on Saturday that the government of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett had shared intelligence information with the US and UK showing Iran was behind the attack, but none of that information has been made public or shared with other nations. Khatibzadeh called the accusations "contradictory, false and provocative," and vowed Iran would respond "immediately and strongly" to any attack ostensibly made in response, whether it is the "collective" response US Secretary of State Antony Blinken promised or the lone wolf response Bennett said Israel was also considering.
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