On August 4, multiple media outlets reported there had been an attempted hijacking of a Panama-flagged ship transiting the Gulf of Oman that had occurred the previous day. The ship, an asphalt-hauling cargo vessel known as the Asphalt Princess, was traveling from the port of Fujairah in the United Arab Emirates when it reportedly was boarded by eight or nine armed individuals near the entrance to the Strait of Hormuz.
According to The Drive news site, British Royal Navy authorities reported the incident as a “non-piracy” incident, which they later upgraded to a “potential hijacking.” The alleged hijackers reportedly later left the ship to continue on its journey.
The incident followed a recent drone attack on the tanker Mercer Street, which killed two of that ship’s crew. Afterward, explosive experts from the USS Ronald Reagan collected remnants of the drones, and investigators later concluded they came from Iran.
The day after the attempted hijacking, Iran’s state-owned Press TV published a story denying Iranian involvement, dismissing it as “psychological warfare” by the United States and its allies. The story quoted political analyst Mostafa Khoshcheshm as saying:
“It was expected from the Israelis and Americans to start using [hues and] cries about the current affairs in the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman and go for … false-flag hijacking and unreal stories in order to rally international support for their bid to win a UN Security Council resolution against Iran.”
That is false.
Although details about the incident remain murky, there is no evidence of Israeli or American involvement, and the available evidence points toward Iran, which has a history of seizing ships.
The Associated Press, citing a maritime radio recording to the Emirati coast guard, said the Asphalt Princess’s crew reported that Iranian gunmen had boarded the vessel. Satellite tracking showed the ship briefly heading into Iranian waters before changing course “several hours later” back to the Gulf of Oman, the AP said.
A similar incident two years ago involved another ship owned by the same Dubai company that owns the Asphalt Princess. During that incident, Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps personnel riding in speedboats filmed the ship as commandos descended onto its deck from a helicopter on ropes. Video of that incident clearly showed one of the speedboats flying the Iranian flag.
In January, Iranian forces hijacked a South Korean-flagged tanker that Iran claimed had been “polluting.” Iranian authorities returned the tanker after Seoul agreed to release $1 billion in Iranian funds that South Korean banks had frozen under U.S. sanctions.
In July 2020, an oil tanker sought by the U.S. for allegedly violating anti-Iran sanctions was hijacked off the coast of the UAE. The ship was later spotted in Iranian waters.
Like the Asphalt Princess, the Mercer Street was traveling from the port of Fujairah in UAE when it came under attack from three explosive drones, one of which struck the pilot house and killed two crew members.
U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) said that the drone’s remnants and explosive residue indicated that it was manufactured in Iran. Photographs of the drone in the CENTCOM report match a drone shown in an Iranian-produced military demonstration video posted on YouTube by the Russian state media outlet RT (Russia Today).