Iranian-backed forces are believed to have seized an oil tanker in the Gulf off the coast of the United Arab Emirates, two maritime security sources said Tuesday.
The claim came after Britain's maritime trade agency reported a "potential hijack" was unfolding off the coast of the UAE's Fujairah Emirate.
The Times of London reported Tuesday evening that British sources believe the Asphalt Princess vessel had been hijacked and were "working on the assumption Iranian military or proxies boarded" the ship.
Iran's foreign ministry said reports of security incidents involving several ships near the UAE coast on Tuesday were "suspicious" and warned against any effort to create a "false atmosphere" against Tehran.
Iran's Revolutionary Guards also denied that Iranian forces or allies were involved in action against any ship off the UAE coast on Tuesday, saying the incident was a pretext for "hostile action" against Tehran, Iranian state television said on its website.
"According to information from security sources, Iran's armed forces and all branches of the Islamic Resistance in the Middle East have nothing to do with the incident in the Gulf of Oman," the Guards said in a statement carried by the website.
It said the incident was a move by Western countries and Israel "to prepare the public opinion of the international community for hostile action against the honorable nation of Iran."
The report from the United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) of a "potential hijack" cat least five ships in the area said that they had lost control of their steering.
It wasn't immediately clear what was happening off the coast of the Fujairah Emirate in the Gulf of Oman, days after an Israeli-managed oil tanker was attacked in the same area.
Fujairah dock is currently hosting MV Mercer Street, the tanker involved in the attack that killed two crew members - a Briton and a Romanian. The United States, Israel and Britain said Iran was behind the attack.
The five vessels announced via their Automatic Identification System trackers that they were "not under command," according to MarineTraffic.com.
That typically means a vessel has lost power and can no longer steer. One of them later began moving.
The ships broadcast their warnings at around the same time as UKMTO, which is part of the Royal Navy, advised vessels to exercise extreme caution in the area some 61 nautical miles east of Fujairah.
It provided no details regarding the vessel or vessels involved.
The U.S. military's Mideast-based 5th Fleet and the British Defense Ministry did not immediately return calls for comment. The Emirati government did not immediately acknowledge the incident.
An Oman Royal Air Force Airbus C-295MPA, a maritime patrol aircraft, was flying over the area where the ships were, according to data from FlightRadar24.com.
The United States and Britain said on Sunday they would work with their allies to respond to last week's attack on the MV Mercer Street, a Liberian-flagged, Japanese-owned petroleum product tanker managed by Israeli-owned Zodiac Maritime.
NATO also on Tuesday implicated Iran in the attack, saying that its members "remain concerned by Iran's destabilizing actions in the region, and call on Tehran to respect its international obligations."
Iran denied involvement in the suspected drone attack and said Monday it would respond promptly to any threat against its security.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett warned Iran on Tuesday that Israel was enlisting an international response to Iran's alleged attack, but added that if necessary, "we are able to act alone."
Iran and Israel have exchanged accusations of carrying out attacks on each other's vessels in recent months.
First published: 18:07, 08.03.21