Less than a week after an Israeli-linked ship was attacked by a drone near Oman, strange claims concerning a “potential hijacking” and reports of vessels experiencing steering issues are coming out of the region.
A British maritime trade agency under the country’s Defense Ministry reported a “potential hijacking” in the Gulf of Oman on Tuesday. Nothing has been confirmed, but unnamed sources have told media outlets that the Panama-flagged Asphalt Princess was taken by “Iranian-backed forces.” Lloyds List Maritime Intelligence, a company that tracks global shipping, claims the ship was hijacked and ordered to sail to Iran.
Iran has strongly denied the claim that it had anything to do with the “potential” hijacking. “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,” Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) said in a statement.
The IRGC also said the incident was likely a pretext for “hostile action” against Iran. Iran has been blamed for last week’s drone attack on the Israeli-linked ship in the region that killed a British national as well as a Romanian, another claim Tehran denies. Israel and the US have both threatened action against Iran for the attack.
Also on Tuesday, reports said six oil tankers announced that they had lost control of their steering. Six ships broadcast that they were “not under command” using their Automatic Identification System (AIS) trackers, according to Marinetraffic.com. Vessels are considered “not under command” if they lose steering due to an exceptional circumstance, such as a fire or power failure.
But ships frequently operate under the “not under command” AIS status if they are drifting for operational reasons, so other vessels stay out of their way. Ships that are really under distress would make calls to local coast guard authorities and other vessels in the region, and the reports did not say distress calls were made. It’s likely that because of last week’s incident, there are more eyes on maritime traffic in the Gulf of Oman than usual that are not used to observing AIS signals.
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh expressed skepticism over Tuesday’s reports and said Iran was ready to assist ships in the region. “Reported ‘incidents’ in the Persian Gulf and broader region appear utterly suspicious,” he wrote on Twitter. “Reaffirming our strong commitment to regional stability & maritime security, Iran stands ready to offer assistance in case of any maritime accidents.”