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UK warns of 'potential hijack' of ship off UAE coast

Incident comes days after an alleged Iranian attack on an Israeli-owned cargo ship in Omani waters
Mercer Street, an Israeli-managed oil tanker that was attacked, is seen off Fujairah Port in the United Arab Emirates (Reuters)

The UK reported a "potential hijack" of a ship off the coast of the United Arab Emirates on Tuesday, days after an alleged Iranian attack on an Israeli-owned cargo ship.

The United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO), part of the Ministry of Defence, described the incident which occurred around 100km east of the coast of Fujairah as a "potential hijack".

Sky News, citing a security source, reported that a group of eight or nine armed individuals are believed to have boarded the vessel, named Asphalt Princess.

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

UKMTO had initially warned ships of an incident before declaring a "potential hijack" hours later.

Earlier in the day, four oil tankers reported that they were "not under command", which usually means that a vessel has lost power and cannot steer. One of the ships later began moving, the Associated Press news agency reported.

According to data from, an Oman Air Force marine patrol aircraft was seen flying over the sea at the same time.

Iran's foreign ministry said reports involving several ships on Tuesday were "suspicious" and warned against any effort to "create a false atmosphere" against Tehran.

A US defence department spokesman, Army Lt Col Thomas Campbell, told Middle East Eye that Washington was "aware of the reported incidents" and is "currently coordinating with our international partners on the next steps".

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The incident comes amid heightened tensions between Iran and the West over its tattered nuclear deal and as commercial shipping in the region has found itself in the crosshairs over it.

Tehran has been blamed by the United States, Israel and Britain for an attack last week on the Israeli-managed Mercer Street tanker off the coast of Oman.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has vowed a "coordinated response", but on Tuesday Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said his country was capable of acting alone.

Iran denies attacking the Mercer Street tanker and said on Monday it would respond promptly to any threat against its security.

Despite Iranian denials, the US, the UK and Israel are certain that the drone hit was indeed operated by the air force and space branch of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps.

Five Israeli-linked ships have been attacked in the region in recent months, following a three-year Israeli sabotage campaign on Iranian vessels bringing oil to Syria.