DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) – Armed men boarded a Hong Kong-flagged oil tanker off the coast of Iran near the crucial Strait of Hormuz amid heightened tensions between Iran and the U.S., a British monitoring organization and a private intelligence firm said Tuesday.
The incident near Iran’s Ras al-Kuh coast was not immediately acknowledged by either the U.S. Navy’s Bahrain-based 5th Fleet, or Iranian officials. However, it comes after the private maritime intelligence firm warned of suspicious incidents in recent days near the strait, through which a fifth of all oil is traded. Oil tankers previously have been a target during the tensions.
The United Kingdom Maritime Trade Organization said in an alert Tuesday night the vessel â€œhad been boarded by armed men while at anchorâ€ near the strait off the Iranian coast.
â€œAll vessels in the vicinity are to stay vigilant and to report any incidents,â€ the warning said, urging ships to â€œexercise caution.â€
The 5th Fleet did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Dryad Global, the private maritime intelligence firm that issued the first warnings about suspicious incidents, identified the ship as the Hong Kong-flagged SC Taipei. It said the 22 crew members aboard were all Chinese. It did not say how it knew the information.
The SC Taipei’s satellite tracking beacon showed it off the coast of Iran in the general vicinity of the warning, according to data from the website MarineTraffic.com. The ship’s owners could not be immediately reached.
That area of Iran is near the country’s restive Sistan and Baluchistan province, where Islamic militant attacks have happened in the past. However, they are not known to have previously attacked shipping.
Even as both face the same invisible enemy in the coronavirus pandemic, Iran and the United States remain locked in retaliatory pressure campaigns that now view the outbreak as just the latest battleground.
Online video and Iranian media reports suggest Iran has deployed Fajr-5 missile batteries on beaches along the Strait of Hormuz.
Dryad Global previously reported maritime incidents in and around the strait. On March 27, two boats with a raised ladder approached a U.S.-flagged container ship, while Revolutionary Guard vessels approached a ship on April 2, the firm said.