Armed men seize, release tanker off Iran by Strait of Hormuz

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES (AP) — Armed men boarded a Hong Kong-flagged tanker ship on Tuesday off the coast of Iran near the crucial Strait of Hormuz, holding the ship for a short time before releasing it amid heightened tensions between Tehran and the United States (US), authorities said.

No one immediately claimed responsibility for the seizure.

The incident comes after a private maritime intelligence firm warned of suspicious incidents in recent days near the strait, through which a fifth of all oil is traded. Oil tankers previously have been a target during the tensions.

The incident happened near Iran’s Ras al-Kuh coast. The United Kingdom (UK) Maritime Trade Operations organisation said in an alert that the vessel “had been boarded by armed men while at anchor”.

“All vessels in the vicinity are to stay vigilant and to report any incidents,” the warning said, urging ships to “exercise caution”.

The UK organisation later said the ship had been released and was underway under its captain’s control, without elaborating.

Dryad Global, the private maritime intelligence firm that issued the first warnings about suspicious incidents, identified the ship as the Hong Kong-flagged SC Taipei bound for Saudi Arabia. It said the 22 crew members aboard were Chinese. It did not say how it knew the information.

The SC Taipei’s satellite tracking beacon showed it off the coast of Iran in the general vicinity of the warning, according to data from the website MarineTraffic.com.

The ship’s owners could not be immediately reached, though a United Nations (UN) database listed a mail-forwarding address for the owners associated with Shanghai-based Aoxing Ship Management.

In March, the US State Department sanctioned Aoxing Ship Management for “knowingly engaging in a significant transaction for the purchase, acquisition, sale, transport or marketing of petrochemical products from Iran” despite American sanctions.