Great Britain

Oil tanker hijack: Boris sends in special forces after Iran attack off UAE coast

The British special forces have been deployed to the region off the coast of the United Arab Emirates while the UK and our allies devise a cyber strike retaliation. The Asphalt Princess tanker has been seized by Iranian forces according to three maritime sources - an accusation Iranian officials strenuously deny. 

The tanker is currently safe after being seized off the coast of the UAE by British forces.

A US military ship is also expected to be sent to monitor the situation.

The United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) said about the potential hijack incident: "Boarders have left the vessel. Vessel is safe. Incident complete."

Refinitiv ship tracking data and AIS tracking showed that the Asphalt Princess was "Underway Using Engine" on Wednesday morning.

READ MORE: World holds breath as US ship 'hijacked' off coast of UAE – Iran tensions sky-rocket

The tanker was travelling through the Arabian Sea leading to the Strait of Hormuz, which is a channel used to transport a fifth of the world's sea-borne oil exports.

International tensions have remained high since a drone attack last week on an Israeli tanker, which killed two crew members, was blamed on Iran by the US, Israel and Britain. 

Iran, once again, denies responsibility for the deaths.

On Tuesday Iran's senior armed forces spokesman, Abolfazl Shekarchi, denied the many incidents at sea and hijacking in the Gulf area as "a kind of psychological warfare and setting the stage for new bouts of adventurism".

The coast of Oman remains a contested and busy area of ocean occupation.

British and American forces will have to remain on guard as tensions and hijackings often rise in tandem.

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Additional reporting by Catrin Picton

The U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee backed legislation today that would repeal congressional authorisations from past wars with Iraq.

This would be a significant step in lawmakers' effort to take the power to declare war from the White House.

The legislation would repeal authorisations for the use of Military Force passed for wars against Iraq under Saddam Hussein.

Those in favour of repeal argued that Iraq's current government should be treated as a U.S. partner, not an enemy.

Opponents said repealing would send a message of weakness in a turbulent region, especially Iran.

Senator Jim Risch, the top Foreign Relations Republican said: "I really believe that it would be a bad message to send... that we're backing away from this."

Since entering the White House, US President Joe Biden has pledged to rejoin the nuclear deal and lift sanctions if Iran.

Tehran and Washington are in the process of reviving the deal and Iran has held a series of negotiations with other signatories including, the UK, Germany, France, Russia and China.

However, the talks have stalled since hardliner Ebrahim Raisi won June’s presidential election. 

The allegations that Iran is responsible for the attack on the MV Mercer Street and Asphalt Princess tanker also risk complicating the fragile process.

Iran’s new hardline president, Ebrahim Raisi, said that his nation will not bend to the “will of foreigners" and said he would seek to end “tyrannical” US sanctions.

He vowed to improve the living conditions of Iranians, which have worsened since 2018 when Donald Trump imposed strict sanctions on Iran and tore up their nuclear deal. 

Mr Raisi, is personally subject to US sanctions over human rights abuses and is due to take the oath of office before Iranian MPs on Thursday.

The United States believes Iranians hijacked the Panama-flagged Asphalt Princess tanker in the Gulf of Oman but is not yet in a position to confirm.

State Department spokesman Ned Price said: "We can confirm that personnel have left the Panama-flagged Asphalt Princess, this commercial vessel that was seized yesterday.

"We believe that these personnel were Iranian, but we're not in a position to confirm this at this time. " 

In a statement shared on Twitter, the Israel Foreign Ministry said: "Iran has once again proven to be a global challenge, a regional challenge and also a challenge to the State of Israel.

"Iran is responsible for dozens of terror attacks across the Middle East, while controlling its proxies in Yemen, Iraq & additional countries."

The Iranian Embassy has called the accusations levelled at Iran over the tankers a "hoax". 

In a series of Tweets the Iranian Embassy went on to say they were yet to hear any updates from the investigation into what happened and threatened to make the sources of "misleading news notorious to the public". 

They added: "Apparently men on board evacuated the ship.

"But they along with the ships hited and several ships losing control evaporated into the air and no clue of them is available!"

Iranian officials have strenuously denied any involvement with the incidents. 

Despite Iran protesting its innocence, the UK, Israel and the United States have accused the state of the fatal assault and vowed to respond.

In an interview with Press TV, the chief of staff of the Iranian armed forces, Major General Mohammad Hossein Baqeri, denied the allegation by the US, UK and Israel that Iran was behind the July 29 attack, saying that “whenever Israel suffers a setback, the regime and its allies rush to make accusations against Iran without any proof or investigation”.

The crew aboard the Asphalt Princess sabotaged the Iranian attempted hijacking by meddling with the engines on the vessel to prevent it moving, according to The Times.

A source told The Times the armed Iranians fled the vessel after US and Omani warships came to rescue them. 

The tanker had been bound for Sohar, a port on Oman’s northern coast, when it was attacked at the mouth of the Strait of Hormuz yesterday afternoon.

The UN must respond to Iran's 'destabilising actions and lack of respect for international law'

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has demanded that the UN responds to the "destabilising actions and lack of respect for international law " from Iran.

Labour’s shadow foreign secretary, Lisa Nandy, has demanded an investigation be launched into the tanker attacks.

She said: “This attempted hijacking comes just days after Iran’s attack on the MV Mercer Street.

"There should be a thorough investigation of what has taken place and who was responsible.

“The world economy depends on freedom of navigation, which is guaranteed under international law.

"The UK government, working with our allies, should now review support and protection for merchant shipping in the region to reflect the heightened risks.”

The UK, Israel and the USA have vowed there will be a "collective response" to the oil tanker aggression attributed to Iran.

It is not yet clear what this "collective response" will involve or when it will be executed.

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards have denied involvement with the hijacking. 

A statement on their website said: “According to information from security sources, Iran’s armed forces and all branches of the Islamic resistance in the Middle East have nothing to do with the incident in the Gulf of Oman.”

The accusation that Iran had any involvement is a ploy “to prepare the public opinion of the international community for hostile action against the honourable nation of Iran,” they added.

Two rockets launched from Lebanon have struck Israel, which responded with artillery fire.

This development comes amid heightened regional tensions over an alleged Iranian attack on an oil tanker in the Gulf last week.

Israel's Magen David Adom national ambulance service said there were no casualties on the Israeli side of the hilly frontier.

However, the rockets did ignite a brush fire.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the rocket strike, launched from an area of south Lebanon under the sway of Iranian-backed Hezbollah guerrillas.

Greco-Roman wrestler Mohammadreza Geraei has won the gold medal in the men's 67kg category at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics today.

Rafael Mariano Grossi, the head of the UN’s nuclear watch group, has warned that Iran is enriching uranium at purity levels that “only countries making bombs are reaching”.

As the director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency he said the situation was “very concerning” as Iran’s nuclear programme had become more developed over the past two years.

“A country enriching at 60 per cent is a very serious thing — only countries making bombs are reaching this level,” said Grossi.

“Sixty per cent is almost weapons grade, commercial enrichment is 2, 3 [per cent].”

In an interview with FT he said it was Iran’s “sovereign right” to develop its programme, but added: “This is a degree that requires a vigilant eye."

Iran denies it is making nuclear weapons.

This Thursday, Ebrahim Raisi, Iran’s new president, will be sworn in.

Ships in the Gulf of Oman were the victims of a cyberattack were examples of Iran’s effort to show the Middle East its power.

Ebarhim Raisi and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader of Iran are aiming to turn their country into a regional superpower.

Uzi Rabi, director of the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies at Tel Aviv University, said that Raisi’s new role as president and the recent Iranian attacks signal “a new reading of the geopolitical chessboard by Iran.”

Rabi said that as the United States leaves the Middle East, Tehran sees the region as a “comfortable arena” in which it can “play a hegemonic role.”

“Israel is being put to the test,” he said, saying that Jerusalem has “gotten the message.”

UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said the UK, Romania and Liberia, whose flag the Mercer Street was sailing under, have written to the president of the UN Security Council over Iran's worrying actions.

He demanded: "The Council must respond to Iran's destabilising actions and lack of respect for international law."

Many ships register overseas to save money.

For a ship to fly the American flag it must be owned and crewed by Americans, and obey U.S. labor laws, including the minimum wage and hiring from costly labor unions.

The Liberian ship registry however, is one of the cheapest in the world.

Liberia was founded by freed American slaves and has since had a close trading relationship with the U.S.

Today its merchant marine is one of the world's largest.

Liberia's flag rivals even Panama's among so-called flags of convenience and speed of registry.

Other popular international flags are Cayman Islands, Netherlands, Cyprus, Marshall Islands, Malta and the British Virgin Islands.

The Asphalt Princess is a Panama flagged ship.

This means that it can more easily travel internationally with fewer restrictions.

Most merchant ships flying Panama's flag belong to foreign owners wishing to avoid the stricter marine regulations imposed by their own countries.

Panama operates an open registry which allows easier registration.

Its flag contentiously also offers the ability to employ cheaper foreign labour.  Foreign owners do not have to pay income taxes for their workers.

About 8,600 ships fly the Panamanian flag.

The US has around 3,400 registered vessels and China just over 3,700.

Under international law, every merchant ship must be registered with a country, known as its flag state.

That country has jurisdiction over the vessel and is responsible for inspecting it is safe to sail and on the crew's working conditions.

The Oman Maritime Security Centre said in a statement it had received information about the Asphalt Princess being subjected "to a hijacking incident in international waters in the Gulf of Oman".

"The Royal Air Force of Oman is carrying out sorties near the area, and the Royal Navy of Oman deployed several ships to help secure international waters in the region."

Abolfazl Shekarchi, Iran's senior armed forces spokesman denounced hijacking in the Gulf as "a kind of psychological warfare and setting the stage for new bouts of adventurism".

The United States and Britain have said they would work with allies to respond to the attack on the Mercer Street, a Liberian-flagged, Japanese-owned petroleum product tanker.

Tehran has said it would respond to any threat against its security.

One Twitter user wrote: "Did you all enjoy last night's tanker show? That vessel is part of IRGC's theatrical fleet. They love to put on a show whenever they wish to demonstrate force and chaos. Next step will be to stop a much larger vessel for a few hours and jack up those insurance premiums for ya!"

His bio reads - "I track down oil tankers for a living; the kind that don't want to be found. Am long in oil, water and small cap stocks."

The IRGC stands for the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy.

"And no, the IRGC will not bother filing the paperwork to own a vessel. They mostly use NITC’s fleet of Suezmax tankers to deliver oil to Syria. However in a case like this which we saw two years ago, they will make an example out of a small tanker in order to demonstrate force.

"As for the “Not Under Command” AIS message which created sensationalism and panic, the mariners who selected that message should have gone with “Drifting” instead. When the water is to deep for the anchor chain, you can’t drop anchor, so you drift instead. 15 vessels had that msg."

Oman has officially confirmed that the Asphalt Princess tanker was involved in a hijacking in the Arabian Sea after Britain's maritime trade agency said the incident was over.

Three maritime security forces told Reuters on Tuesday that the Asphalt Princess tanker was seized by suspected Iranian-backed forces, which Iran denied.

Oman's Maritime Security Centre said on Twitter that it had received information about the Panama-flagged Asphalt Princess being subjected "to a hijacking incident in international waters in the Gulf of Oman" and that the sultanate's navy had deployed several ships to help secure international waters.

UK'S Dominic Raab says The UN Security Council must respond to Iran's destabilising actions and lack of respect for International law. 

The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs has written to the UN Security Council President, Dmitry Manuilsky, to discuss the Iranian attack on ship MV Mercer Street which caused two deaths.

Joe Biden, the US President has not yet said what action America plans to take to target Iranian piracy.

The United States and Britain have said they would work with their allies to respond to the attack.

On Tuesday, Naftali Bennett, Israeli Prime Minister said that Israel would act alone against Iran if necessary.

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Following an unlawful attack on a merchant vessel off the coast of Oman on July 29 which killed a Brit and a Romanian, the Iranian ambassor spoke.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said the Government believed the drone attack on a ship in the Middle East was "deliberate, targeted, and a clear violation of international law by Iran".

He said: "The UK condemns the unlawful and callous attack committed on a merchant vessel off the coast of Oman, which killed a British and a Romanian national.

"Our thoughts are with the friends and family of those killed in the incident.

"We believe this attack was deliberate, targeted, and a clear violation of international law by Iran."

The Iranian ambassador to the UK, Mohsen Baharvand, denied Irans involvement in front of the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office.

James Cleverly, the Minister for the Middle East also responded to the attack on MV Mercer Street on 29 July.

"Minister Cleverly reiterated that Iran must immediately cease actions that risk international peace and security, and reinforced that vessels must be allowed to navigate freely in accordance with international law."

The Asphalt Princess was hijacked by nine "heavily armed" gunmen who travelled 60 miles (111 km) toward Iran, east of the Emirati port of Fujairah when it originally stopped, then abandoned ship. 

The tanker is owned by the Emirati free zone-based Glory International.

Boris Johnson, UK Prime Minister has said: "Iran should face up to the consequences of what they've done."

He explained it was "clearly an unacceptable and outrageous attack on commercial shipping."

Boris has had his say

Boris has had his say (Image: GETTY)

British sources told The Times newspaper that they were: "working on the assumption Iranian military or proxies boarded the vessel."

Britain's foreign ministry was "urgently investigating" an incident on a vessel off the UAE coast, a spokesperson said. 

The White House called the reports 'deeply concerning'.

Iran's Revolutionary Guards denied that Iranian forces or allies were involved in action against any ship off the UAE coast, saying the incident was a pretext for 'hostile action' against Tehran, state television reported on its website. 

Saeed Khatibzadeh, Iran's foreign ministry spokesman denied his country was involved and 'warned of any effort to create a false atmosphere for special political purposes.

He said: "Iran's naval forces are ready for help and rescue in the region."

Iran's state-run IRNA news agency quoted Saeed calling the recent attacks in the region "completely suspicious."

He denied that Iran was involved.

General Sir Nicholas Carter, head of the UK Armed Forces and Ben Wallace, Secretary of State for the Defence of the UK are in talks over strategy.

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On Radio 4 today, General Sir Nick Carter, the UK's military chief, says Iran made a "big mistake" by attacking an Israeli-linked tanker off Oman, killing a UK national & a Romanian, & warned "ultimately we have got to restore deterrence".

The UK Chief of the Defence Staff said: "What we need to be doing fundamentally is calling out Iran for very reckless behaviour.

"They made a big mistake on the attack they did against the Mercer Street vessel last week because that has very much internationalised the state of play in the Gulf."

"We will work out with our allies what is the best way of providing protection [to international shipping in the Gulf] and convoys may not necessarily be the right method. We have used other methods and we will think and keep reviewing our way of keeping this happening. 

"But ultimately we've got to restore deterrence because it's behaviour like that [Iran's alleged tanker attack] which leads to escalation & that could v easily lead to miscalculation & that would be v disastrous for all the people’s of the Gulf & the international community."

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