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Possible vessel hijacking off Fujairah sparks new shipping risks, Iran tensions


Asphalt Princess seized by armed individuals, sources say

Vessel about 61 nautical miles off coast of Fujairah

Incident follows deadly July 29 drone attack on tanker

A vessel may have been hijacked off the coast of Fujairah near the Strait of Hormuz, UK Marine Trading Operations, or UKMTO, said Aug. 3, adding to tensions with Iran over the safe passage of shipping in the region.

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According to UKMTO -- which supports the UK's naval presence in the region -- a vessel sailing about 61 nautical miles from Fujairah may have been hijacked.

Maritime and security sources have identified the vessel as the Asphalt Princess, with Iran suspected to be involved in the incident.

The alleged incident had no immediate impact on oil prices. At 1739 GMT, ICE October Brent futures was trading at $72.31/b, down 58 cents from the previous day's settlement.

The Port of Fujairah -- located just outside the Persian Gulf on the East Coast of the UAE -- is a major bunkering hub at the entrance to a waterway where approximately 18 million b/d of crude are shipped mostly to markets in Asia.

US officials were following reports of a maritime incident in the Gulf of Oman but were still gathering information, US State Department spokesman Ned Price told reporters during a daily briefing.

"We are concerned. We are looking into it," he said. "We are coordinating with partners."

The US embassy in Abu Dhabi said it was following the issue but had no comment at this time.

Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh called the incidents "completely suspicious," warning not to draw any false conclusions for political purposes.

The incident comes in the wake of a deadly July 29 drone attack on an unladen oil products tanker, Mercer Street, which was headed to Fujairah in the UAE to load diesel for delivery into East Africa.

The US, UK and Israel blamed Iran for the strike on the Israeli operated tanker, which Iran has denied, and shippers operating in the region are on high alert for any retaliatory measures.