Three maritime security sources are reporting that Iranian-backed forces are believed to be behind the hijack of an oil tanker in the Gulf off the coast of the United Arab Emirates.

The British military’s United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) warned ships that “an incident is currently underway” off the coast of Fujairah. It advised extreme caution around 60 nautical miles east of the U.A.E.’s Fujairah emirate.

Hours later, the authorities said the incident was a “potential hijack,” but didn’t have any details to add.

Lloyd’s List, a leading maritime shipping authority, and Dryad Global, a maritime intelligence company, both identified the vessel involved in the incident as Panama-flagged asphalt tanker Asphalt Princess. The vessel’s owner is listed as the Emirati free zone-based Glory International.

The British Navy first warned of a “potential hijack” of a ship off the coast of the United Arab Emirates in the Gulf of Oman earlier on Tuesday.

After the UKMTO posted its warning, the Times, a London newspaper, reported that “British sources believe Asphalt Princess has been hijacked. They are working on the assumption Iranian military or proxies have boarded the vessel.”

A War on the Region’s Shipping

Tensions have been high in the region since an Israeli-managed tanker, the Mercer Street, was attacked by drones of Iranian-backed forces off the Omani coast. Two crew members died in that attack. The Iranians denied any responsibility, but the Al-Alam agency, an Iranian-state-run news service said the attack was “in response to” a recent Israeli attack on an airport in Syria’s Qusayr region. The two sides have been trading attacks on shipping in the Gulf.

Oil tanker Mercer Street
The oil tanker Mercer Street was attacked by drones off of the U.A.E. coast. (AP)

Iran’s senior armed forces spokesman, Abolfazl Shekarchi, dismissed reports of maritime incidents and hijacking in the Gulf area as “a kind of psychological warfare and setting the stage for new bouts of adventurism,” the Fars News Agency said.