- The British Navy said one ship was safe following a possible hijacking in 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.
On Wednesday, U.K. Maritime Trade Operations, who monitors commercial shipping routes, reported that 'boarders have left the vessel, which it had not designated. A day earlier, it said there was a potential hijack' roughly halfway between Iran and the United Arab Emirates on Tuesday.
Shipping publication Lloyd's List said that the Panama-flagged Asphalt Princess was the vessel. Bloomberg was unable to contact the ship's Dubai owner or confirm the report. Saeed Khatibzadeh, spokesperson of Iran's Foreign Ministry, denied on Tuesday that Iranian forces boarded ships in the Persian Gulf and Ocean Sea of Oman and warned against fake news and the information released by western and Zionist media.
Tensions have escalated in and around the waterways of the Persian Gulf - vital for the world's oil markets in the past week. The U.S. vowed a 'collective response' with its allies to Thursday's drone strike on an Israeli-operated ship, for which Iran denied responsibility. Washington is moving forces into the region to investigate attack, the Financial Times reported, citing a U.S. defence official.
The Fifth Fleet of the United States Navy, based in Bahrain, said it was aware of the latest incident and was coordinating with regional partners. However, no American ships were involved in the response to Bahrain.
Shipping attacks come amid a change of the presidency of Iran with Ebrahim Raisi, a hardline cleric who’s long argued against a rapprochement with the U.S. taking office on Tuesday. World powers such as the U.S. are waiting to see when his administration will resume stalled nuclear talks, which are meant to limit Tehran's nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief, including on energy exports.
Iran's recent moves of major sanctions against U.S. sanctions are an impediment to oil production by the United States. And its crude exports have plummeted to almost nothing from more than 2 million barrels a day in mid- 2018 from more than 2 million barrels a day. Traders have said it could increase daily output by around 1 million barrels within months of a nuclear deal.
The U.K. told the United Nations Security Council that Iran is probably behind the drone attack on Oman this week off the vessel which killed a Romanian and a Briton, a first step in bringing the issue before world body
'Initial assessments by the U.K. and international partners, shared by Romania, concluded that it is highly likely that’ the merchant ship Mercer Street was attacked off the coast of Oman by ‘Iran’ using one or more Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, missions from the United Kingdom of Romania and Liberia wrote in a letter to the council saw by Bloomberg News.
It is unlikely, though, that the U.S. and allies such as Russia and China can win support for a statement blaming Iran in the 15-member Security Council where nations like the UK and Iran have veto power.
Israel has said earlier 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 Prime Minister Naftali Bennett provided good evidence for hard measure. Israel is seeking international support for a concerted response, but it 'also knows how to act on its own', he added.
In its own letter to the Security Council, Israel's UN Ambassador Gilad Erdan said that the latest attack is 'yet another instance of maritime terrorism carried out by Iran on the high seas, similar to other recent attacks I have already brought to the attention of the Security Council and asking that concrete action be taken.