US Navy Sends Ship To Shadow Hijacked Tanker As It Heads Toward Iranian Waters

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by Tyler Durden
Tuesday, Aug 03, 2021 - 06:38 PM

(update-6:37PM eastern): The US State Department late in the day has said it is aware of reports that the Panama-flagged Asphalt Princess has been hijacked by multiple heavily armed militants. 

The ship is reportedly headed for Iranian waters, after multiple reports pointed the finger at an Iranian forces hijack incident in progress, though details have still remained murky and unconfirmed as the ship continues to move.

Iran has meanwhile issued a formal denial that it's forces are behind Tuesday's events off the coast of UAE, as Bloomberg reports:

Saeed Khatibzadeh, spokesman for Iran’s Foreign Ministry, denied reports that Iran’s forces boarded moving ships in the Persian Gulf and Sea of Oman and warned against "rumors and the fake news of Western and Zionist media," according to the semi-official Tasnim news.

Earlier he called the incident “utterly suspicious” and said Iran was prepared to provide assistance to any ships in distress in the area and help with efforts to investigate the event.

Late in the day there are new reports that the US Navy is sending a vessel to the vicinity as part of the continuing investigation of the fluid situation.

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(update-12:50PM eastern): A flurry of bizarre and unconfirmed reports are coming out of the Gulf waters where one or more foreign vessels are believed seized by the Iranians, however, which Tehran is denying, calling the reports "suspicious". Britain's Sky News reports:

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

And then there's this hugely alarming unconfirmed report circulating...

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(update-12:38PM eastern): While there are still many unknowns about the developing distressed tanker incident in the Persian Gulf off the UAE coast, including whether the incident has impacted one or possibly up to a few tankers, reports are now pointing to a hijacking in progress likely by Iranian forces.

Journalist and defense editor for the UK Times Larisa Brown is citing British government sources to say the Panamanian-flagged Asphalt Princess has been boarded by hostile entities.

The vessel now appears to be moving, according to real-time tracking data, viewable here.

Earlier speculation abounded over reports that the nearby Golden Brilliant may be under distress as well, possibly in a mine attack incident.

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(update-11:22AM eastern): Statements from Iranian state sources are saying a foreign tanker has struck a mine in the Persian Gulf.

While few details are as yet known or confirmed, international maritime aerial patrols are said to be en route to observe the vessel or vessels directly, possibly including US aircraft in the region.

However, these early reports out of Iran remain unconfirmed, but seem to point to another major security incident unfolding after last Thursday's deadly drone attack on the Israeli-managed Mercer Street tanker.

One of the potentially distressed tankers is Singaporean flagged 'Golden Brilliant' chemical ship. Interestingly, it's managed by "the same company that managed the Andrea Victory, which Iran attacked with a limpet mine in May 2019," according to one observer.

Omani observer aircraft are said to now be over waters where one or more vessels may be disabled.

If the mystery incident is confirmed to have been a mine attack, expect the US military to be en route...

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The UK has ordered ships to exercise extreme caution in Persian Gulf waters off UAE's coast as an unknown incident is unfolding, though few details have initially been given.

A non-piracy incident is currently underway east of Fujairah, with "investigations ongoing," an urgent alert from the United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) indicates. "The warning notice, based on a third party source, advised vessels in the area to exercise extreme caution," Reuters writes of the developing notification.

It's as yet unclear which vessel may be involved in a potential distressed situation, but open source maritime tracking information suggests at least one vessel has been deemed "not under command"

In technical terms this simply means means that a vessel is unable to maneuver at this time.

Reuters reports the following

The Maersk Messina (Singapore flag), Asphalt Princess (Panama flag), and an unnamed tanker are in the area, according to MarineTraffic.

The Front Crown and Golden Brilliant, both located nearby are listed as "Not Under Command", meaning that through some exceptional circumstance, they are unable to maneuver and are therefore unable to keep out of the way of another vessel.

The region is on edge following last week's drone attack on an Israeli-linked oil tanker off Oman which left two international crew members dead. Israel and the US have warned they are preparing 'action' against Iran, which they blamed for the incident.

Iran for its part has said it will respond with a "strong and crushing" military response to any provocations. While the developing incident in the Gulf could simply be a vessel temporarily experiencing technical difficulties, there are fears of a new incident related to the renewed Iran and Israel 'shadow war' in the region.

Iranian state media is reporting this, however: