Photo Credit: NASA / Wikimedia Commons.
A satellite image of the Persian Gulf, also known as the Arabian Gulf, the Strait of Hormuz and the Gulf of Oman, Dec. 30, 2001.

Late Tuesday “Lloyd’s Listconfirmed that “reports of hijacked tanker in the Gulf of Oman, first raised by UK Maritime Trade Operations Tuesday, is the Panama-flagged asphalt tanker Asphalt Princess.”

A security source quoted by Sky News said that a group of eight or nine armed individuals were believed to have boarded the Princess. “It was an unauthorized boarding in the Gulf of Oman,” the source said.

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At around 7 pm Israel time, the non-piracy “incident” that was reported earlier in the day by the United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) agency — part of the UK Defense Ministry — was upgraded from an “incident underway” to a “potential hijack.”

UK: ‘New Incident’ Underway in Gulf of Oman

According to multiple sources, Iran is believed to be involved in the hijacking of the Asphalt Princess as well as having been involved in attacks on at least four other vessels plus a suicide drone strike on an Israeli-operated vessel last week.

“Vessels are advised to exercise extreme caution when transiting in this area,” the UKMTO said in its warning.

In addition to the Princess, at least four more vessels issued an alert Tuesday via their Automatic Identification System trackers that they too were “not under command,” according to the Associated Press, MarineTraffic.com and Refinitiv. “Not under command” means a vessel has lost power and can no longer steer. One of the vessels later began moving, Stripes reported.

Four of the ships reportedly signaled their warning simultaneously that British authorities urged vessels to “exercise extreme caution” in the sector, 61 nautical miles east of Fujairah.

The Asphalt Princess is believed to have been seized by a squad of eight or nine armed men off the coast of Fujairah in the United Arab Emirates. The tanker is owned by Prime Tankers LLC, according to Aurora Intel. In 2019, Iran seized another ship, the MT Riah, owned by the same company.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry declined to comment on the incident, saying, “We don’t have this information yet and if it is not an Israeli-related event we are not the ones to confirm this information.”

British authorities are “working on the assumption Iranian military or proxies boarded” the Asphalt Princess, the Times of London reported.

The four vessels in addition to the Princess are also oil tankers: The Golden Brilliant, Jag Pooja, Queen Ematha and Abyss, according to multiple sources.

It is not clear whether an earlier report on a different vessel the Kamdhenu, sailing under the Flag of Cook Islands, was in error or whether the vessel has a different name.

A maritime patrol Airbus C-295MPA was scrambled by the Royal Air Force of Oman to overfly the area where the ships were when they issued their alerts, according to data from FlightRadar24.com .

The British Defense Ministry, the US Fifth Fleet (based in the Middle East) and the Emirati government were all approached by Reuters for comment, but none returned the call.

Three maritime security sources quoted by The Jerusalem Post said the hijack took place in an area of the Arabian Sea that leads to the Strait of Hormuz, which Iran has repeatedly threatened to close.

At least one-fifth of the world’s oil exports are shipped through the Strait of Hormuz in their voyage to various destinations.

UPDATE (Wednesday morning): According to the United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) on Wednesday morning, the boarders left the ship, the ship is safe and the incident is over.

Israel, US, UK Blame Iran
Last week’s drone attack on the Israeli-operated ship involved a large explosives-laden suicide drone flying hundreds of miles from land and controlled by a camera feed,” The Mirror reported.

The vessel was traveling from Dar es Salaam to Fujairah with no cargo on board, according to Zodiac Maritime when it was attacked at a location northeast of the Omani island of Masirah.

Two crew members were killed: a Romanian national and a British security man who was a military veteran. The oil tanker is operated by Israeli business mogul Eyal Ofer’s Zodiac Maritime Ltd. The owner of the vessel, which sails under the Flag of Liberia, is a Japanese national.

Israel, the United States and United Kingdom pledged a “collective response” to the attack but offered no further information.

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Hana Levi Julian is a Middle East news analyst with a degree in Mass Communication and Journalism from Southern Connecticut State University. A past columnist with The Jewish Press and senior editor at Arutz 7, Ms. Julian has written for Babble.com, Chabad.org and other media outlets, in addition to her years working in broadcast journalism.