The Iranian Armed Forces have denounced recent contradictory reports of maritime incidents and hijacking in the Sea of Oman as a Western “psychological warfare” meant to set the ground for new adventurism.
Brigadier General Abolfazl Shekarchi, spokesman of the Armed Forces, made the remarks on Tuesday, after Reuters claimed that “Iran-backed forces” were believed to have seized an oil tanker off the coast of the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
Citing maritime security sources, the report identified the seized vessel as the Panama-flagged asphalt/bitumen tanker Asphalt Princess.
Meanwhile, The Times of London newspaper quoted British sources as saying that they were “working on the assumption Iranian military or proxies boarded” the Asphalt Princess.
In a warning notice based on a third-party source, the United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) alleged a “potential hijack” and advised ships to exercise extreme caution around 60 nautical miles east of the UAE’s Fujairah emirate.
Early on Wednesday though, the same agency said the suspected hijacking of a ship in the Gulf of Oman had ended and that the vessel was safe.
"Boarders have left the vessel. Vessel is safe. Incident complete," UKMTO tweeted, without making any clarifications surrounding the incident, and without naming the vessel involved in the alleged incident.
The developments came days after the US, the UK and Israel blamed Iran for a deadly drone attack on an Israeli-managed oil tanker off the coast of Oman.
Also on Tuesday, Britain, Romania and Liberia in a letter to the United Nations Security Council on Tuesday repeated claims that it was "highly likely" that Iran had conducted a drone strike on the tanker last week, according to Reuters.
Tehran denied any involvement in the incident and rejected the accusations as “baseless.”
Iran’s Foreign Ministry earlier summoned Britain’s chargé d'affaires and Romania's ambassador in protest at the false accusations.
In response, Shekarchi said, “Contradictory news from some Western, Zionist and Saudi media about any maritime insecurity and hijacking of ships in regional waters is a kind of psychological warfare and setting the stage for new bouts of adventurism.”
“In addition to helping the safe movement of commercial ships, the Armed Forces of the Islamic Republic of Iran have full intelligence about any suspicious movements and stand completely prepared,” he told Fars news agency.
The commander also said, “The powerful naval forces of Iran’s Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) and Army are ready to provide any assistance and dispatch relief units if necessary and at the request of foreign vessels.”
Iran's Embassy in the United Kingdom also reacted to the news, citing its sources in the Persian Gulf as saying there was no information available about any new incidents involving commercial vessels.
According to our direct links in the Persian Gulf region, no information on new incidents for any merchant ship in the region is confirmed so far.— Iran (I.R.of) Embassy in UK (@Iran_in_UK) August 3, 2021
Misleading the public all around the world for diplomatic gain in New York is not fair game. pic.twitter.com/9aXPXo7kAZ
Additionally on Tuesday, several vessels off the coast of the United Arab Emirates issued a warning via their Automatic Identification System (AIS) trackers that they were “not under command,” suggesting they had lost control of steering.
A senior military official in the Persian Gulf told Iran’s Nour news agency the same day that based on reports from the Iranian naval forces in the Sea of Oman and the Persian Gulf, “the movement of commercial vessels is quite normal and no official naval sources or Persian Gulf countries have reported any uncontrolled incidents in the region.”
Referring to an announcement by several commercial vessels regarding the disruption of their navigation systems, the source said that the Ports and Maritime Organization of Iran had offered assistance to the ships in order to solve the problem.
“Certainly, the psychological warfare, which has been waged by certain known Western and regional media outlets to portray the Persian Gulf region as insecure, is pursuing specific goals, whose dimensions will soon be determined,” the source said.
“However, what is significant is that the Islamic Republic of Iran — as one of the main pillars of stability and security in the region — is keeping up comprehensive efforts to safeguard the strategic waterways of the Persian Gulf, the Strait of Hormuz and the Sea of Oman and is closely monitoring any attempt to instigate or insinuate regional insecurity and will take necessary measures to counter these moves,” the source said.