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Masked armed gunmen board crude oil tanker in Gulf of Oman

There were 19 crew onboard the St Nikolas when the gunmen boarded. (SUPPLIED)
There were 19 crew onboard the St Nikolas when the gunmen boarded. (SUPPLIED)
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11 Jan 2024 04:01:15 GMT9
11 Jan 2024 04:01:15 GMT9
  • 19 crew aboard the ship at the time of being boarded
  • Tracking system believed to have been turned off and ship head towards Iran

Dalal Aweinat and Peter Harrison

DUBAI: Five masked gunmen wearing black military style uniforms have boarded a crude oil tanker in the Gulf of Oman, according to the United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO).

The ship’s owners have told Arab News they lost contact with the ship early Thursday morning.

The incident was reported 50 nautical miles east of Oman’s Sohar.

Security experts say the ships tracking system has been turned off and the vessel is believed to be headed towards Iran.

A spokesperson at Empire Navigation, managers of M/T St. Nikolas, confirmed to Arab News reports that they lost contact with their vessel at approximately 06:30 a.m. Athens time (04:30 GMT) “as she was sailing off the coast of Oman, close to Sohar. The vessel is manned with total 19 crew members: 18 Filipino and one of Greek Nationality.”

“The vessel had loaded the previous days in Basrah (Iraq) a cargo of about 145,000 mts of crude oil destined to Aliaga (Turkey), via the Suez Canal. The charterer of the vessel is Tupras.”

“Empire Navigation have activated their emergency plan, notified the pertinent authorities and are making every effort to restore communication with the St.Nikolas.”

Reuters cited the US private intelligence firm Ambrey as saying the tanker’s automatic identification system had been turned off, adding that the tanker was headed in the direction of Bandar-E-Jask in Iran.

The UKMTO website stated: “UKMTO  has received a report of vessel being boarded by 4-5 armed unauthorized persons at approximately 0330UTC in an area 50NM East of Sohar, Oman.” The report read.

“Unauthorised boarders are reported to be wearing military style black uniforms with black masks. Authorities are investigating.”

An earlier report on the site stated: “CSO reports hearing unknown voices over the phone along with the Masters voice. Unable to make further contact with vessels at this time. Authorities are investigating”.

Earlier reports advised vessels in the area to “transit with caution and report any suspicious activity to UKMTO.”

AP said that those boarding the ship had covered the surveillance cameras as they boarded.

The ongoing incident comes just a day after the UN Security Council adopted a resolution condemning “in the strongest terms” multiple Houthi attacks on ships in the Red Sea over the past two months.

The St Nikolas is a Crude Oil Tanker that was built in 2011 and is sailing under the flag of the Marshall Islands, it is associated with the Greek shipping company Empire Navigation.

In September, Empire Navigation pleaded guilty to smuggling sanctioned Iranian crude oil and agreed to pay a $2.4 million fine over a case involving the tanker Suez Rajan, which carried some 1 million barrels of oil.

The incident currently has an amber status on the UKMTO website, indicating that a “Robbery, Boarding, Suspicious approach” has taken place. A red status would signify “Attack, Hijack, Incident, Kidnap”.

Tensions have grown in the seas off the Arabian Gulf in recent days, with Yemen’s Houthi militia saying on Wednesday that it carried out a retaliation strike on the US Navy in the Red Sea with multiple missiles and drones.

On this occasion American and British navy ships shot down 21 Houthi drones.

British Defense Minister Grant Shapps said, Wednesday that the continuation of Houthi attacks in the Red Sea was “completely unacceptable”.

Shapps previously said on Jan.1 that Britain was “willing to take direct action” against Iran-backed Houthi militia in Yemen who have repeatedly attacked vessels in the Red Sea.

Developing story

(With agencies)

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