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‘Potential hijack’ under way off UAE coast -UK maritime trade agency

The UK has reported a “potential hijack” of a ship off the coast of the United Arab Emirates as a security source said a tanker appears to have been seized.

UK Maritime Trade Operations, a part of the Ministry of Defence, described the incident as a “potential hijack”.

A group of eight or nine armed individuals are believed to have boarded the vessel, named Asphalt Princess, the security source told Sky News.

“It was an unauthorised boarding in the Gulf of Oman,” the security source said.

There is no British link to the tanker.

It comes as Associated Press reported that at least four vessels sent out warnings saying they had lost control of their steering.

On Tuesday afternoon at least five ships in the sea between the UAE and Iran updated their AIS tracking status to “Not Under Command”, according to Refinitiv ship tracking data. Such a status generally indicates a ship is unable to manoeuvre due to exceptional circumstances.

Reuters could not confirm this Refinitiv data had any connection to the reported incident.

Last week an attack on an Israeli-managed tanker off the coast of Oman killed two crew members and was blamed on Iran by the United States, Israel and Britain.

Iran denied involvement in that suspected drone attack and said on Monday it would respond promptly to any threat against its security.

Oil tankers called Queen Ematha, Golden Brilliant, Jag Pooja and Abyss all reported through their Automatic Identification System trackers they were “not under command”, according to MarineTraffic.com.

That typically means a vessel has lost power and can no longer steer.

It follows an attack on the Mercer Street vessel, which has been blamed on Iran.

The area in the Arabian Sea leads to the Strait of Hormuz, through which about a fifth of the world’s seaborne oil exports flow.

The U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet, which is based in Bahrain, did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment.

An Oman Royal Air Force Airbus C-295MPA, a maritime patrol aircraft, was flying over the area where the ships were, according to data from FlightRadar24.com.

The event comes just days after a drone struck an oil tanker linked to an Israeli billionaire off the coast of Oman, killing two crew members. The West blamed Iran for the attack, which marked the first known assault to have killed civilians in the yearslong shadow war targeting commercial vessels in the region. 

Iran denied playing any role in the incident, though Tehran and its allied militias have used similar “suicide” drones in attacks previously.

Israel, the United States and United Kingdom vowed a “collective response” to the attack, without elaborating.

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