The United States believes Iran was behind Tuesday’s maritime security incident on board the Asphalt Princess in the Gulf of Oman, but it wasn’t yet in a position to confirm details.
“We can confirm that personnel have left the Panama-flagged Asphalt Princess, this commercial vessel that was seized yesterday. We believe that these personnel were Iranian, but we’re not in a position to confirm this at this time, ” State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters during a briefing Wednesday.
Oman on Wednesday provided the first official confirmation that the Asphalt Princess was in fact the tanker involved the “potential hijacking” first reported by the United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) on Tuesday.
UKMTO on Wednesday reported that the incident was “complete” but did not disclose the name of the vessel.
AIS tracking of the Asphalt Princess on Wednesday showed that the ship was “Underway Using Engine” with a destination set for Karachi, Pakistan.
The incident comes just days after last week’s deadly attack on the Israeli-linked MT Mercer Street in the same general area.
The United States, Britain and Israel suspect one or more Iranian drones were used to carry out the attack, which killed the Romanian Captain and a British security guard, and have vowed a “collective response”.
“I spoke to @SecBlinken about the situation & need for Iran to stop its destabilizing behavior,” British foreign minister Dominic Raab wrote on Twitter. “We continue to work together to protect international peace & security.”
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the U.S. would discuss with Britain the next steps to hold Iran accountable.
“I reiterated my condolences to @dominicraab for the loss of a UK citizen in Iran’s attack on the Mercer Street vessel, which was peacefully transiting international waters. We discussed next steps to hold Iran accountable and defend the freedom of navigation,” Secretary Blinken wrote in a tweet.
Iran has denied involvement in both incidents and warned against “false flag” operations in the Persian Gulf.
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