From Washington, State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters it was “too early for us to offer a judgement just yet” about the events unfolding in the Gulf of Oman. But citing the recent assault on an oil tanker linked to an Israeli billionaire that killed two crew members in nearby waters, Price said, “We have seen a very disturbing pattern of belligerence from Iran, including belligerence in the maritime domain.”
The West has blamed Iran for launching the drone strike last week on the oil tanker off the coast of Oman, which marked the first known attack to have killed civilians in the years-long shadow war targeting commercial vessels in the region. Iran denied playing any role, though Tehran and its allied militias have used similar “suicide” drones in past attacks.
Israel, the United States and United Kingdom have vowed an unspecified “collective response” to the attack.
The Gulf of Oman is near the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow mouth of the Persian Gulf through which a fifth of all oil passes. Fujairah, on the UAE’s eastern coast, is a main port in the region for ships to take on new oil cargo, pick up supplies or trade out crew.
DUBAI/LONDON, Aug 3 (Reuters) - Iranian-backed forces are believed to have seized an oil tanker in the Gulf off the coast of the United Arab Emirates, three maritime security sources said, after Britain's maritime trade agency reported a "potential hijack" in the area on Tuesday.
Abolfazl Shekarchi, Iran's senior armed forces spokesman, denounced reports of maritime incidents and hijacking in the Gulf area as "a kind of psychological warfare and setting the stage for new bouts of adventurism," the Fars News Agency said.
Two of the maritime sources identified the seized vessel as the Panama-flagged asphalt/bitumen tanker Asphalt Princess in an area in the Arabian Sea leading to the Strait of Hormuz, the conduit for about a fifth of the world's seaborne oil exports.
The U.S. State Department said it was concerned and looking into reports of a maritime incident in the Gulf of Oman, but that it was too early to offer a judgment. Britain's foreign ministry was "urgently investigating" an incident on a vessel off the UAE coast, a spokesperson said. read more
U.S. officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the United States military was considering repositioning at least one vessel in the general vicinity of the Asphalt Princess to keep a closer eye.
The officials said this would not be uncommon and would be to monitor the situation rather than to make any imminent military moves.
Tehran has denied any involvement in Thursday's attack on the Mercer Street - a Liberian-flagged, Japanese-owned petroleum product tanker managed by Israeli-owned Zodiac Maritime. Two crew members, a Briton and a Romanian, were killed. read more
Diplomats said Britain was expected to raise the issue in a closed-door meeting of the Security Council in the coming days. The council is also coincidentally due to discuss maritime security in a public meeting on Monday, chaired by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. India is council president for August.
"The United Kingdom and Romania, along with regional and international partners, are conducting a thorough investigation of this attack. We will update the council in due course," Britain, Liberia and Romania said in the letter.
Israel wrote separately to the U.N. Security Council, vowing to "continue to take all necessary measures to protect its citizens."
"Iran's unceasing hostile activities endanger our region and beyond, and we expect the Security Council to take concrete and decisive action to curb this growing threat," wrote Israel's Ambassador to the United States and United Nations Gilad Erdan.
The United States and Britain said on Sunday they would work with their allies to respond to the attack.