The suspected hijacking of a ship in the Gulf of Oman has ended and the vessel is safe, a UK maritime security agency has said, days after a deadly attack on a tanker in the region.
"Boarders have left the vessel. Vessel is safe. Incident complete," UK Maritime Trade Operations tweeted, without elaborating.
The incident off the United Arab Emirates came just days after an attack on an Israel-linked tanker that left two dead and which the United States and Israel blamed on Iran.
Earlier, the shipping industry intelligence site Lloyd's List reported that armed men had boarded the Panama-flagged tanker and ordered it to sail to Iran.
Yesterday, the UKMTO said the "potential hijack" of the ship took place 60 miles east of the emirate of Fujairah as it headed towards the Strait of Hormuz, one of the world's busiest waterways.
Maritime security analysts at Dryad Global and Aurora Intelligence named the ship as the Panama-flagged Asphalt Princess, an asphalt and bitumen tanker.
The ship headed towards Iran under the control of armed men with British and US naval operations monitoring the situation, Lloyd's List said.
An Omani maritime security source confirmed the Omani government had received information on the Asphalt Princess being involved in "a hijacking incident in international waters in the Gulf of Oman".
"The Royal Air Force of Oman is carrying out sorties near the area, while the Royal Navy of Oman deployed a number of ships from its fleet to help secure international waters in the region," the source said, quoted in a defence ministry statement.
Richard Meade, editor of Lloyds List, told The Times that "armed forces" had boarded the vessel and had been "directing it towards Iran".
Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said yesterday that "reported 'incidents' in the Persian Gulf and broader region appeared utterly suspicious".
"Reaffirming our strong commitment to regional stability and maritime security, Iran stands ready to offer assistance in case of any maritime accidents," Mr Khatibzadeh wrote on Twitter.
The United States stopped short of assigning blame for the latest episode, but State Department spokesman Ned Price said there had been "a very disturbing pattern of belligerence from Iran".
"When it comes to this specific incident, it's too early for us to offer a judgment just yet," Mr Price told reporters.
White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the US was in close touch with Britain over the "deeply concerning" incident.
While Iran has denied any involvement in last Thursday's blast on the MT Mercer Street, the United States and Iran's arch-enemy Israel both say an Iranian drone caused the explosion.
Two crew members, from Britain and Romania, died on the Liberian-flagged ship, which is managed by prominent Israeli billionaire Eyal Ofer.
Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz urged ambassadors in Jerusalem to "hold Iran accountable for its actions".
He named a senior Iranian in the elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps he said was responsible for attacking the tanker and other strikes.
"Saeed Ara Jani is the Head of the IRGC's UAV Command. This is the man that is personally responsible for the terror attacks in the Gulf of Oman," Gantz said.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has vowed a collective response against Iran over the tanker incident, which he called a "direct threat" to freedom of navigation.
US Navy forces who came to the aid of the crew in response to a distress call saw evidence of a drone attack, according to the US military.
He succeeded Hassan Rouhani, considered a moderate, who sought to repair relations with the West and whose administration unsuccessfully sought to negotiate a revival of a nuclear accord with the US.