Wednesday, August 4, 2021

Latest Four Middle Eastern Vessel Attacks Carry a Different MO

West Must Be Very Sure of Actors Before Responding
Shipping News Feature

ARABIAN SEA – It would be very unwise to second guess either the motive or the nationalities of the personnel involved when looking at the recent hijack of the Panama flagged tanker Asphalt Princess.

Whilst the general view seems to be that the tanker was seized by ‘Iranian forces’ one should perhaps be a little surer of who exactly was behind the attempted act of piracy (or not as the case may be) before pointing the finger. This particular facet of the ever turbulent Middle East region is particularly sensitive at the moment, with several troubling incidents recently, each with the potential to generate an even more worrying response.

Geographically the latest incident occurred at the entrance to the Strait of Hormuz whilst the ship was en route to Sohar. The asphalt and bitumen carrier was seized on August 2, just days after a suspected drone hit another tanker, the Mercer Street killing two crew members, an incident firmly placed at the feet of the Iranians by Israel and the US.

While the nationality of the attackers in that case are likely to be Iranian, the faction that they represent could range from official military forces to a rogue group determined to destabilise the region and plunge into all-out war. Another feature of that attack, which differs radically from the latest incident, is the modus operandi.

The Mercer Street whilst Panamanian flagged and Japanese owned, is managed by Zodiac Maritime, based in London. Zodiac however is believed to have been targeted directly before when the CSAV Tyndall suffered slight damage when struck by a missile last month. The ship was no longer in fact operated by Zodiac, whose owner Eyal Ofer and a prominent Jewish businessman with Israeli political connections, is an obvious target for anti-Israeli interests.

Ofer’s brother apparently has an interest in XT Holdings which also saw a container ship of theirs, the Lori attacked in March, in yet another missile attack. The common denominators then for these last three are then the Israel connection and the fact they were hit with airborne munitions. The drone incident shows an upswing in technology, missiles usually hit a general target, the drones can be launched from comparatively small craft, or the coast, and guided with pinpoint accuracy.

The Mercer Street incident saw the drone hit the bridge of the ship directly, either a grimly ‘lucky’ shot or something aimed to kill the officers or bridge crew on board, something in which it seemingly succeeded with reportedly one Briton and one Romanian left dead.

The hijack of the Asphalt Princess is a very different type of incident. There is certainly a suspicion of security information received, with the United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) warning all shipping in the area to take extra precautions just hours before the attack.

UKMTO the apparently reported the action as a ‘non piracy related’ event and it appears that, after several people boarded the tanker and took control, they then left as quickly as they had arrived, with confused messages coming out of Iran saying this was not an Iranian action, yet a statement in the press claiming Iranian military were providing security to vessels in the region.

One must hope that nobody takes it upon themselves to initiate precipitous action before, if ever, the full facts of who has done what to whom, emerges with certainty.

Photo: The entry point of the attack on the Mercer Street was the bridge roof just in front of the vessel’s funnel.