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Asphalt Princess Crew Reportedly Disabled Vessel to Stop Boarders

Iranian attcks on merchant vessels in the Persian Gulf region
Oman regularly patrols the Gulf to maintain security for merchant vessels (Ministry of Defence Oman)

Published Aug 6, 2021 12:58 PM by The Maritime Executive

Additional details are coming out regarding this week’s assault on a tanker in the Gulf of Oman as the global community continues to react to the threat to shipping in the region coming from Iran or operatives loyal to Iran. The United Nations Security Council will discuss the growing threat to security, while the foreign ministers of the G7 nations issued a statement condemning Iranian threats to shipping.

The two vessels that came under attack recently both remain in the Persian Gulf region while investigations are ongoing. The 9,748 dwt bitumen tanker Asphalt Princess is still in the Gulf of Oman after the boarders were scarred away and left the vessel overnight on August 4. The vessel’s AIS shows that it is due to sail to Karachi, Pakistan, but it so far has not departed. Separately, the 49,990 dwt tanker Mercer Street was moved to the anchorage off Fujairah in the UAE after it was struck by a drone attack. Reports indicate that the vessel’s UK-based operator plans to repatriate the crew from the UAE.

The new information on the boarding of the Asphalt Princess provides additional details on what was going on aboard the vessel and the possible reasons for the mysterious circumstances. The Times of London is quoting sources that said the crew of the tanker disabled the vessel’s engine when they were boarded. After the vessel was ordered to sail to Iran, the crew reportedly stopped the propulsion so that the vessel was left drifting in the Gulf of Oman.

The report says that six heavily armed individuals boarded the tanker. In an audio recording of a call from the tanker to the authorities in the UAE, a crew member is heard saying that armed Iranians are aboard his vessel. When asked what their demand are he said they can not understand the Iranians and suggested that the UAE officials speak directly to the boarders.

The Times of London report says that the boarders remained aboard the tanker after it was disabled. They ultimately were scarred off leaving the vessel after warships from the Royal Navy of Oman and the United States approached the tanker. In an official statement, Oman reported that its air force was overflying the vessel and that it had sent several warships to investigate.

Speaking after the attack on the Mercer Street that killed the vessel’s captain and a security guard, UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said, “Iran must end such attacks, and vessels must be allowed to navigate freely in accordance with international law. The UK is working with our international partners on a concerted response to this unacceptable attack.”

Israel’s Ambassador to the UN, Gilad Erdan, has demanded that the Security Council take up the issue of the attacks and “condemn Iran over the drone attack on the Mercer Street.” The UK, Romania (the home of the captain of the Mercer Street), and Liberia (flag state for the tanker) have also called on the UN to take up the issue of the attacks.

In a joint statement, the foreign ministers of the G7, including the UK, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Canada, the United States, and representatives of the EU today pledged “do our utmost to protect all shipping,” saying that vessels must be able to operate freely and without being threatened by irresponsible and violent acts.

“Iran’s behavior, alongside its support to proxy forces and non-state armed actors, threatens international peace and security. We call on Iran to stop all activities inconsistent with relevant UN Security Council resolutions,” the minister said in their statement. 

For its part, Iran using its state media continues to deny involvement in the two recent attacks. “Iranian Armed Forces Spokesman Brigadier General Abolfazl Shekarchi blasted the recent contradictory reports of maritime incidents and hijacking in the Sea of Oman as Western ‘psychological warfare’ meant to set the ground for new adventurism,” Iran reported through its Fars News Agency.

The UN Security Council will meet on the matter as part of its session scheduled for today, August 6.