London: The British Navy said a ship was safe after a possible hijacking near Iran raised friction in the region, days after a deadly drone attack on a tanker that the US, UK and Israel all blamed on the Islamic Republic.
The UK Maritime Trade Operations, which monitors commercial shipping routes, reported on Wednesday that “boarders have left the vessel,” which it did not name. A day earlier, it said there was a “potential hijack” near Iran on Tuesday.
Shipping publication Lloyd’s List said the the Panama-flagged Asphalt Princess was the vessel.
Saeed Khatibzadeh, spokesman for Iran’s Foreign Ministry, denied that Iran’s forces boarded ships in the Gulf and Sea of Oman on Tuesday and warned against “rumours and the fake news of Western and Zionist media.”
Tensions have escalated in and around the waterways of the Gulf - vital for the world’s oil markets - in the past week. The US vowed a “collective response” with its allies to Thursday’s drone strike on an Israeli-operated ship, for which Tehran denied responsibility. Washington is “moving forces” into the region to investigate the attack, the Financial Times reported, citing a US defence official.
The US Navy’s Fifth Fleet, based in Bahrain, said it was aware of the latest incident and was coordinating with regional partners, but that no American vessels were involved in the response.
The shipping attacks come amid a change of Iran’s presidency, with Ebrahim Raisi, a hardline cleric who’s long argued against a rapprochement with the US, taking office on Tuesday. World powers including the US are waiting to see when his administration will resume stalled nuclear talks, which are meant to limit Tehran’s atomic programme in return for sanctions relief, including on energy exports.
The easing of US sanctions are key to Iran’s ability to increase oil production. Its crude exports have plummeted to almost nothing from more than 2 million barrels a day in mid-2018. Traders have said it could increase daily output by around 1 million barrels within months of a nuclear deal.
UK to UN: Iran probably behind drone attack
The UK told the United Nations Security Council that Iran was probably behind the drone attack on the vessel off Oman last week that killed a Romanian and a Briton, a first step in bringing the issue before the world body.
“Initial assessments by the UK and international partners, shared by Romania, concluded that it is highly likely that” the merchant vessel Mercer Street was attacked by “Iran off the coast of Oman using one or more Unmanned Aerial Vehicles,” missions from the UK, Romania and Liberia wrote in a letter to the council seen by Bloomberg News.
It’s unlikely, though, that the UK and allies including the US can win support for a statement blaming Iran in the 15-member Security Council, where nations including Russia and China have veto power.
Israel said earlier it had given allies “hard evidence” that Iran was behind last week’s deadly attack. “No one has any doubt who is behind the incident, but we supplied hard evidence for good measure,” Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said. Israel is seeking international support for a concerted response, but it “also knows how to act on its own,” he added.
In its own letter to the Security Council, Israel’s UN Ambassador Gilad Erdan said the latest attack is “yet another instance of maritime terrorism undertaken by Iran on the high seas, similar to other recent attacks that I have already brought to the attention of the Security Council, asking that concrete action be taken.”