British Navy investigating 'potential hijack' near Iran

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British Navy investigating 'potential hijack' near Iran

The British Navy said a ship was possibly hijacked near Iran, raising friction in the region days after a deadly drone attack on a tanker that the U.S. U.K. and Israel all blamed on the Islamic Republic.

The U.K. Maritime Trade Operations, which monitors commercial shipping routes, reported a 'potential hijack' about halfway between Iran and the United Arab Emirates on Tuesday. The Foreign Office said it was 'urgently investigating'.

'Hijackers' who boarded the vessel off the UAE have left the ship, Associated Press reported on Wednesday citing British Navy.

Earlier, the shipping publication Lloyd's List said the Asphalt Princess vessel was sailing towards Iran. Bloomberg was unable to contact the ship's Dubai-based owner or confirm the report. Saeed Khatibzadeh, spokesman for Iran's Foreign Ministry, stated that Oman forces boarded ships in the Persian Gulf and Sea of Oman on Tuesday and warned against 'rumors and fake news from Western and Zionist media.

Tensions in and around the waterways of the Persian Gulf - vital for the world's oil markets - have escalated the past week. The U.S. vowed a 'collective response' with its allies to the 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 U.S. defence official.

The shipping incidents come amid a change in Iran's presidency with Ebrahim Raisi, a hardline cleric who has long argued against a closeness to the U.S. taking office on Tuesday. World powers including the U.S. are waiting to see when his administration resume stalled nuclear talks, which are intended to limit Tehran's atomic program in return for sanctions relief.

The United Nations Security Council told the U.K. that Iran was likely behind the drone attack on the Oman vessel last week that killed a Romanian and a British, a first step in bringing the issue before the UN Security Council.

'Outic assessments by the U.K. and international partners, jointly 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 aircraft; missions from the U.K. Romania and Liberia in a letter to the Council were seen by Bloomberg News

But it is unlikely that the U.K. and allies including the U.S. can win support for a statement criticizing Iran at the 15-member Security Council, where nations including Russia and China have veto power

Israel said earlier that 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 have presented good evidence for hard measures, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said. Israel is seeking concerted support for an international response, but it knows how to act on its own, he added.

In its own letter to the Security Council, Israel's State Ambassador Gilad Erdan said the latest attack is 'yet another instance of maritime terrorism carried out 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.