TEHRAN – Iran’s armed forces on Wednesday denounced 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.
The British navy said the hijackers who allegedly captured a vessel off the coast of the United Arab Emirates in the Gulf of Oman departed the targeted ship on Wednesday, claiming that recorded radio traffic appeared to reveal a crew member onboard saying Iranian gunmen had stormed the asphalt tanker.
Western media outlets took up their usual roles as spin doctors, with the Associated Press saying in the audio, a crew member could be heard telling the Emirati coast guard that five or six armed Iranians had boarded the tanker.
“Iranian people are onboard with ammunition,” the American news agency claimed, quoting the alleged member crew.
The intruders reportedly boarded the Asphalt Princess sailing off the coast of Fujairah late on Tuesday. The official news agency of Oman’s military said it received reports that the Asphalt Princess had been hijacked and immediately dispatched Royal Air Force maritime patrol aircraft and naval vessels “to contribute to securing international waters.”
In the recorded radio traffic, when the Emirati coast guard asks the crew member what the Iranian gunmen were doing onboard, he says he “cannot understand the (Iranians),” his voice muffled, before trying to hand over the radio to someone else. The call then cuts off.
This way of unsubstantiated reporting is bizarre for the AP and other Western news outlets which claim to base their stories on credible information and source, but it has precedents before.
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.
According to Western reports, possible signs of trouble began to emerge that evening when six oil tankers off the coast of Fujairah announced around the same time via their Automatic Identification System trackers that they were “not under command”. That typically means a vessel has lost power and can no longer steer.
The Gulf of Oman sits near the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow mouth of the Persian Gulf through which a fifth of all traded oil passes. Fujairah, on the UAE’s eastern coast, is a main port in the region for ships to take on new oil cargo, pick up supplies or trade out crew.
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 claims came after the U.S., the UK and the occupying regime of Israel blamed Iran for a deadly drone attack on an Israeli-managed oil tanker off the coast of Oman.
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.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh described the recent maritime attacks in the Persian Gulf as “completely suspicious.”
Brigadier General Abolfazl Shekarchi, spokesman of the Armed Forces, said Wednesday, “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.
A senior military official in the Persian Gulf told Iran’s Nour news agency 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.