A group of armed commandos believed to be from Iran stormed an oil tanker in the Gulf of Oman — and were thwarted when the crew disabled the engines, according to a report.
The ship, identified as the Panamanian-flagged Asphalt Princess, was boarded by about six heavily armed men off the coast of the United Arab Emirates on Tuesday in what the United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations characterized as a “potential hijack.”
In audio from a maritime radio recording, obtained by the Associated Press, a crew member informs the Emirati coast guard that the tanker has been boarded.
“Iranian people are onboard with ammunition,” the crew member says.
“We are … now, drifting. We cannot tell you exact our ETA to (get to) Sohar,” the port in Oman listed as the ship’s destination, he says.
The hijackers directed the tanker to Iran.
By Wednesday, the commandos left the ship and the UKMTO updated its report: “Boarders have left the vessel. Vessel is safe. Incident complete.”
A source with knowledge of the intelligence briefings on the incident told the Times of London that “armed Iranians stormed the vessel and tried to take it back to Iran but the crew scuppered the engines, so that is why it was shown bobbing in the water.”
“Then US and Omani warships turned up and the Iranians got into some boats and went off,” the source said.
Nobody has taken responsibility for the attempted hijacking near the Strait of Hormuz, but the incident has raised tensions in the Persian Gulf region following a drone attack last week on an oil tanker that killed two crew members off the coast of Oman.
State Department spokesman Ned Price said US officials believe the “personnel were Iranian, but we’re not in a position to confirm at this time.”
Abolfazl Shekarchi, a spokesman for Iran’s armed forces, dismissed the hijacking report as “a kind of psychological warfare and setting the stage for new bouts of adventurism.”
In the recording, an Asphalt Princess crew member said he “cannot understand the (Iranians)” before the call ends.
Six oil tankers off the coast of Fujairah, near the Strait of Hormuz, the entryway into the Persian Gulf, warned on Tuesday that they were “not under command,” meaning they had lost power and could not steer.
The Asphalt Princess was captured on satellite tracking heading for waters off Iran early Wednesday, according to reports, when it suddenly changed course and began steaming toward Oman.