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UK 'Urgently Investigating' Incident on Ship Between UAE, Iran Amid 'Hijacking' Report

Newsweek logo Newsweek 8/3/2021 Tom O'Connor
a man standing next to a body of water: A child rides a swing as the Israeli-linked Japanese-owned tanker MT Mercer Street is seen off the port of the Gulf Emirate of Fujairah in the United Arab Emirates on August. On July 29, two crew members of the tanker MT Mercer Street, managed by a prominent Israeli businessman's company, were killed in what appears to be a drone attack off Oman, the vessel's London-based operator and the US military say, with Israel blaming Iran. © KARIM SAHIB/AFP/Getty Images A child rides a swing as the Israeli-linked Japanese-owned tanker MT Mercer Street is seen off the port of the Gulf Emirate of Fujairah in the United Arab Emirates on August. On July 29, two crew members of the tanker MT Mercer Street, managed by a prominent Israeli businessman's company, were killed in what appears to be a drone attack off Oman, the vessel's London-based operator and the US military say, with Israel blaming Iran.

The United Kingdom's Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) said it was tracking with urgency an incident that its military's maritime tracker identified involving at least one ship traversing the tense Gulf of Oman between the United Arab Emirates and Iran.

"We are urgently investigating an incident on a vessel off the UAE coast," an FCDO spokesperson told Newsweek.

The comment came after the Defense Ministry's U.K. Maritime Trade Operations reported on Tuesday that "an Incident is currently underway" 61 nautical miles east of the UAE's Fujairah coast. The incident was described as "non-piracy" and then also classified as a "potential hijacking" by the monitor.

Meanwhile, other independent maritime trackers began to show that a number of vessels in the vicinity of the incident were reporting "Not under command," meaning the crew was unable to maneuver as needed, often due to an exceptional circumstance.

These ships included oil tankers Golden Brilliant and Front Crown, both of which have since reported they were "underway using engine." Another tanker in the immediate area, Maersk Messina, was the center of a legal battle involving the rightful owner of Iranian gas cargo seized last year by the U.S.

The latest events follow a series of incidents and apparent attacks in the strategically located Gulf of Oman, which connects the Arabian Sea to the strategic Strait of Hormuz, the world's most important maritime oil traffic chokepoint and the center of geopolitical tensions involving Iran and its foes across the waters and in the West.

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On Sunday, another vessel, the Israeli-linked Japanese-owned tanker MT Mercer Street, was targeted in an apparent drone attack, killing two in an act blamed on Iran by Israel.


Video: U.S. sees 'collective response' to ship attack blamed on Iran (Reuters)

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Saeed Khatibzadeh said Tuesday he was "skeptical of reports of a series of security incidents involving ships in the Persian Gulf and the Sea of ‚Äč‚ÄčOman, and warned against creating a false atmosphere for specific political purposes," according to the ministry.

"The Iranian Navy is ready to provide naval support services if needed, by announcing assistance and assistance to transit ships in the region," Khatibzadeh said. "In the event of a problem with the navigation systems, the Islamic Republic of Iran is ready to assist and investigate the matter closely."

Israel has also been accused of targeting Iran-linked ships including a number of ships suspected of transporting oil to Syria in March.

The incidents are part of what appeared to be a two-year wave of murky attacks at sea that began with Spring 2019 incidents in the Gulf of Oman blamed by the U.S. and several allies on Iran. That same year, the U.K. seized an Iranian tanker accused of using the Strait of Gibraltar to send oil to Syria, and Iran's Revolutionary Guard commandeered a U.K.-flagged tanker accused of violating maritime rules in the Strait of Hormuz.

Tensions have continued as the U.K. and other Western parties to a 2015 nuclear deal with Iran fail to live up to normalized trade ties with the Islamic Republic in the wake of the United States' 2018 exit from the deal. Washington's exit impeded Tehran's ability to export oil under the threat of U.S. sanctions for importing nations.

Since coming to office in January, President Joe Biden, who served as vice president when the nuclear deal was reached under former President Barack Obama, as officially rejected the "maximum pressure" approach pursued by his immediate predecessor, former President Donald Trump. But the Biden administration has yet to reenter the accord as his officials negotiate indirectly with Iran through rounds of talks in the Austrian capital of Vienna.

This is a developing news story. More information will be added as it becomes available.

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