Israel's national public broadcaster Kan News has obtained audio from Tuesday to Wednesday's harrowing events aboard the Panama-flagged tanker Asphalt Princess, believed to have briefly been under Iranian military control and headed for the Islamic Republic's territorial waters in the Persian Gulf.
In the short audio recording released Wednesday crew of the distressed Asphalt Princess vessel are heard communicating with the UAE Coast Guard, frantically saying that between five and six armed Iranians were on board during the ordeal.
#BREAKING: Audio has surfaced of yesterday’s reported hijacking of the Asphalt Princess, where the crew can be heard telling the UAE coast guard there are 5-6 Iranians with ammunition on board. #Iran #OOTT pic.twitter.com/zFlpdoulq2— Iran International English (@IranIntl_En) August 4, 2021
It also seems the captain communicates that the tanker is drifting and not under the crew's control, confirming the initial reports that signaled something was wrong yesterday. The ship's transponder showed it was "not under command". The audio communication seems to have been made Wednesday just after the gunmen disembarked the ship.
"Iranian people are onboard with ammunition," the crew member communicates. "We are... now, drifting. We cannot tell you exact our ETA to (get to) Sohar." But by later in the day Wednesday the hijackers departed the vessel, as ABC News reports:
The hijackers who captured a vessel off the coast of the United Arab Emirates in the Gulf of Oman departed the targeted ship on Wednesday, the British navy reported, as recorded radio traffic appeared to reveal a crew member onboard saying Iranian gunmen had stormed the asphalt tanker.
The incident — described by the British military’s United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations the night before as a "potential hijack" — revived fears of an escalation in Mideast waters and ended with as much mystery as it began.
No one took responsibility for the brief seizure, which underscored mounting tensions as Iran and the United States seek a resolution to their standoff over Tehran's tattered 2015 nuclear deal with world powers. Officials in Tehran on Tuesday had vehemently denied that Iran was behind it, though the formal statement appears to have convinced few in the West.
It's the clearest confirmation thus far that indeed the tanker was hijacked by Iranians or their proxies, likely elite IRGC commandos. According to analysis by prominent maritime security firm Dryad Global, this was a "calculated show of strength":
It is assessed that the temporary detention of the MT ASPHALT PRINCESS was a calculated show of strength by the Iranian Navy and ultimately unconnected to events concerning Israel and Iran, as played out in the attack on the MT MERCER STREET. Since July 2019 such incidents have proved relatively common, with 7 incidents of a similar nature occurring within the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman. Whilst seemingly random and ultimately impossible to predict these events are, however, not representative of an increase in risk to wider commercial shipping.
The move is also possibly meant to gain leverage related to currently stalled nuclear negotiations with the West in Vienna. Notably Iran's newly elected president, hardline cleric Ibrahim Raisi, took office on the same day as the hijacking.
"Historically, the IRGC and Iranian Navy have conducted vessel detentions in a like-for-like manner or in response to either the detainment of Iranian vessels or Iranian linked economic activity," Dryad Global explains further. "In both instances, Iranian forces have been able to assert their dominance within their immediate sphere of interest, which is a central goal for Iranian military operating within the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman."
And the report recounts that "In July 2019, the British flagged MT STENA IMPERO was seized following the seizure of the Iranian tanker GRACE 1 by British Marines."
#BREAKING: Quite the story: Iranians stormed the Asphalt Princess and tried to take it to #Iran but the crew sabotaged the engines of the vessel so it could not move, according to UK government sources. 1/2https://t.co/e54TY7oWzA— Jason Brodsky (@JasonMBrodsky) August 4, 2021
The US Navy said it dispatched a ship to monitor the Asphalt Princess's movements and to assess the situation. This also as the United States and Israel issued formal blame for last Thursday's Israeli company-managed Mercer Street drone attack off the coast of Oman which left two crew members, a British and Romanian national, dead. Israel is now threatening military action, which could come at any moment amid soaring tensions.