The UK’s maritime trade agency said Wednesday that an incident described as a “potential hijack” in the Gulf of Oman was now over. The United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) said the people who boarded the vessel involved in the incident had left.
Oman identified the ship involved in the incident as the Panama-flagged asphalt tanker Asphalt Princess and said it deployed naval forces in the area. “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,” Oman’s Maritime Security Center said.
Sources told Reuters that they believed “Iranian-backed forces” boarded the Asphalt Princess, but nothing has been confirmed, and Iran vehemently denies the claim. Despite the lack of details, the US State Department said it suspects that “Iranian personnel” were involved.
“We believe that these personnel were Iranian, but we’re not in a position to confirm this at this time,” State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters. “Iran has undertaken a pattern of belligerence in terms of proxy attacks in the region and of course, these maritime attacks.”
An unnamed US official who spoke to Business Insider said a US military aircraft photographed “suspected Iranian gunmen” onboard the ship who appeared to remove something from the vessel.
A spokesman for Iran’s Armed Forces dismissed the reports of the alleged hijacking as “psychological warfare” intended to stir up “adventurism” against Iran.
The strange incident came less than a week after a deadly drone attack on an Israeli-linked ship in the region, which Israel, the US, and the UK have blamed on Iran, another accusation Tehran denies. Israel is calling for global military action against Iran over the incident.