An oil tanker has mysteriously disappeared from international waters close to the coast of Iran.
Iran says rescuers aided the foreign tanker MT Riah in the powder keg Strait of Hormuz after receiving a distress signal.
The tanker was seen to change direction towards Iran on radar, but then disappeared when the ship’s tracking transponder was switched off.
Iran says the tanker was owned and crewed from the United Arab emirates, which was denied in Abu Dhabi and Dubai.
“The tanker in question is neither owned nor operated by the UAE,” said the UAE authorities.
Hijacked or rescued?
“It does not carry Emirati personnel, and did not emit a distress call. We are monitoring the situation with our international partners.”
The tanker is registered to Prime Tankers in the UAE. That company sold the tanker to another UAE company, Mouj al-Bahar.
Mouj al-Bahar says that they do not own the ship, but had managed the vessel up to two months ago, and that it was now managed by another company, KRB Petrochem.
US Navy ships were patrolling the area and tracking the tanker at the time of her disappearance over the weekend.
But no one can confirm a distress signal was broadcast or if the Iranians boarded and towed the tanker away or offered genuine aid to a stricken ship.
Tensions running high
The mystery followed Britain bolstering naval forces in the strait after a war of words with Tehran over the seizure of a tanker suspected of breaking sanctions against Syria the previous weekend.
British commandos boarded the ship and took her to Gibraltar at the request of the Americans, who alleged the cargo of crude oil was destined for Damascus in breach of economic sanctions put in place by the European Union and the US.
The sanctions are to restrict Iran’s nuclear program.
Following the seizure, Iran threatened to hijack a British tanker.
Tensions have been high in the strait since Iran allegedly attacked two tankers and shot down a US spy drone.
Besides the British response, the US has stepped up a presence by sending thousands of soldiers and a fleet of bombers to the region.
The Strait of Hormuz is a busy shipping land that accounts for the flow of around a third of the world’s oil and gas out of the Middle East.