According to maritime sources, the Panama-flagged ship Asphalt Princess, which was flagged Panama, was taken in the Gulf of Oman on Tuesday, August 3. It is being transported into Iranian waters. This story is still being developed.
Emirati-based Glory International, has yet to comment on the incident. Britain’s maritime trade agency is calling this a ‘potential hijack‘ and is examining options for a military response. According to marinetraffic.com ship tracker, five other vessels were also in the area and declared that they “not under command”. This is a common statement in hijacking situations. It means that a vessel cannot maneuver because of “exceptional circumstances.” The British maritime trade agency has been calling this a ‘potential hijack’.
Oil prices remain flat at $72.74 in the wake of the attacks (thus far) as delta variant fears keep a lid on market expectations.
United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations has issued a warning advising ships to be cautious around the Fujairah emirate. A US Department of State spokesperson expressed concern over the situation Tuesday and said the attack is under investigation, but stopped short of blaming Iran.
These incidents occurred off Fujairah port, which is a vital resupply point for vessels transiting through the Persian Gulf. The entrance to the geostrategic Strait of Hormuz is located nearby. This Strait, which accounts for five percent of world’s crude oil exports, serves as a major focus of US Navy’s 5 fleet. The U.S. Energy Information Administration calls Hormuz ‘the most important oil transit chokepoint‘ in the world.
These crises are occurring amid increasing tensions between Iran, the United States and other countries. In 2018, the US withdrew from the JCPOA Iran nuclear agreement and placed strict sanctions against the Islamic Republic. In 2019, the US stopped granting waivers that would allow certain countries to continue trading with Iran despite the American sanctions, and now those waivers are no more. In May of that same year, Iran attacked four ships in the area around Fujairah. These were two Saudi-flagged vessels, an UAE-flagged barge and an oil tanker belonging to Norwegian ship management company Thome Group. These attacks could have been retaliation against the end of the waiver program and were intended to increase leverage in future negotiations.
2019 also saw the infamous drone and missile strikes on Saudi Arabia’s Abqaiq and Khurais oil fields, carried out by Iranian-backed Houthi rebels. Despite Iranian claims not to being responsible, precision and destruction were all hallmarks of Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ (IRGC) attacks. Although oil prices spiked immediately after the attack on Saudi Arabia’s energy infrastructure, global supply was stabilized by American shale producers.
These incidents took place under Hassan Rouhani’s rule. Ebrahim Raisi, a hardliner from Iran is the new Iranian president. He may have taken a leaf out of Hassan Rouhani’s negotiation playbook. The new president has pledged the removal of America’s “tyrannical sanctions” and that Iran will not “tie its economy to the will of foreigners.” Despite these nationalist campaign promises, Raisi’s election was plagued with problems, including lower voter turnouts, disqualification of challengers, and the suppression and arrests of many protestors. Raisi is a protege of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and an accused mass murderer. The attacks on Tuesday could be used to distract from the internal chaos surrounding the controversial election.
But these attacks in the Arabia Sea also coincide with Iran’s first oil shipments from its new Terminal at Jack’s Port in the Gulf of Oman, positioned South of the Hormuz chokepoint. Analysts believe the terrorist attacks are a sign to both allies and foes that Iran has escaped the Strait.
But Hormuz won’t lose its importance anytime soon. America, the largest oil importer in the world, has a strong interest in energy trade from the region. Even in the new age of American energy dominance, the core of the old Carter Doctrine of 1980 still stands: the United States will use all tools, including military force, to defend its interests in the Persian Gulf. Although markets have not yet been rattled by Iranian actions, they may be in the future if any further Iranian action causes closure of Strait.
Iran should not be allowed to use foreign ships in the Strait of Hormuz for their geopolitical purposes. This is an unacceptable game that the Islamic Republic cannot afford to play, as the United States leads the international community.
with assistance from Joshua Geller, and Mosab AnnwaryPubliated at Wednesday, 4 Aug 2021 04.26:21 +0000