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Armed men board, release tanker in Gulf of Oman

A Hong Kong-flagged vessel was boarded by unidentified armed men in the Gulf of Oman and taken into Iranian waters on 14 April.

The attack occurred some 50 nautical miles northeast of the UAE’s Port of Fujairah / 47 nautical miles northwest of the Iranian Port of Bandar e-Jask, maritime intelligence firm Dryad Global informed.

It is believed that the ship in question is the 23,727 cbm chemical tanker SC Taipei, with a crew of 22 personnel, all being Chinese nationals. SC Taipei, previously known as Isabel Knutsen, is operated by China’s SC Shipping, VesselsValue’s data shows.

At the time of the incident, the vessel was reportedly at anchor in an in-ballast condition and awaiting orders to approach al-Jubail in Saudi Arabia.

“At 12:48UTC the vessel was shown to be underway towards the Iranian coastline. At 14:28UTC the vessel was shown to be stationary at a position 4nm off Mogh-e Qanbareh-ye Kuh Mobarak,” Dryad Global said.

The maritime intelligence firm added that it was unclear whether the ship was in distress or assisted by Iran in some way.

In a separate statement, United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) said that the vessel was later released and that the Master regained control of its tanker.

UKMTO, a Royal Navy capability with the purpose of providing maritime security information, advised all vessels in the vicinity “to stay vigilant”.

No one has so far claimed responsibility for taking over the tanker. However, according to Dryad Global, “it cannot nor should not be ruled out” that Iran is behind the attack on the Hong Kong-flagged ship, or that Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) “have acted in haste”.

“While Beijing is not responsible for Hong Kong vessels, there is a realistic possibility that China would view the detention of a Hong Kong vessel as a proxy assault on its own sovereignty. At a time when China still buys Iranian oil, and Iran has few international friends, such a move would be highly irregular, and would not further Iran’s interests,” Dryad commented.

Over the past two years, Iran detained several commercial vessels in the region amid heightened tensions with the United States.