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Oil Tanker Seized In Gulf of Oman, Ordered To Sail To Iran

A tanker carrying bitumen has been hijacked in the Gulf of Oman and has been ordered to sail to Iran, the BBC reported, citing information from Lloyds List Maritime Intelligence.

An earlier report by The Independent said that the Royal Navy's UK Maritime Trade Operations had reported that a tanker had been hijacked off the coast of Fujairah in the UAE, saying that soldiers stormed the Panama-flagged Asphalt Princess.

The BBC notes in its report that, according to analysts, Iran's military will be the primary suspect. Iran, for its part, has dismissed the hijacking reports as a pretext for "hostile action."

An earlier report by the AP said that four tankers in the Gulf of Oman had reported they were "not under command," which means a vessel has lost power. Later, according to the report, one of these tankers began moving again.

TankerTrackers.com co-founder Samir Madani tweeted that the headlines were getting out of hand. "There are actually 15 vessels right now in the Gulf of Oman that have changed their AIS status to 'Not Under Command' because that's normal there," he wrote, adding, "[This] Doesn't mean they suddenly updated it to that. There are those that did it days and weeks ago."

A CNBC report, on the other hand, said that the status of four tankers remained unclear.

Iran called these reports suspicious, according to the BBC, and warned against attempts to "create a false atmosphere."

The reports of a hijacking come just days after another tanker, the Mercer Street, was attacked with drones off the Omani coast. Israel, the UK, and the United States were quick to blame Iran for the attack. The UK and U.S. also said they were preparing a concerted response to the attack.

Iran has responded to the accusations by saying it would deliver a "strong and crushing" military response to any hostile move against it.

These latest geopolitical developments put an even bigger question mark over the Iran nuclear deal and the consequent lifting of sanctions that are preventing Iran from selling as much oil internationally as it could.

"It is alarming given the fact we had two fatalities on Friday," CNBC quoted RBC commodity head Helima Croft as saying. "You have to put it in the context of Iran continuing to make progress on the nuclear restart against the backdrop of a new hard-line government coming to power in Tehran. It raises the risk of unintended escalation, or one side not appreciating the other's red lines."

By Irina Slav for Oilprice.com

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