At least four ships off the coast of the United Arab Emirates broadcast warnings Tuesday that they had lost control of their steering under unclear circumstances as authorities reported “an incident” was underway in the area.
It wasn’t immediately clear what was happening off the coast of Fujairah in the Gulf of Oman.
The vessels — oil tankers called Queen Ematha, the Golden Brilliant, Jag Pooja and Abyss — announced around the same time via their Automatic Identification System trackers that they were “not under command,” according to MarineTraffic.com. That typically means a vessel has lost power and can no longer steer.
The British military’s United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations initially only warned ships that “an incident is currently underway.” Hours later, they said the incident was a “potential hijack.” They did not elaborate.
An Oman Royal Air Force Airbus C-295MPA, a maritime patrol aircraft, was flying over the area where the ships were, according to data from FlightRadar24.com.
The US military’s Mideast-based 5th Fleet and the British Defense Ministry did not immediately return calls for comment. The Emirati government did not immediately acknowledge the incident.
The event comes just days after a drone struck an oil tanker linked to an Israeli billionaire off the coast of Oman, killing two crew members. The West blamed Iran for the attack, which marked the first known assault to have killed civilians in the years-long shadow war targeting commercial vessels in the region.
Iran denied playing any role in the incident, though Tehran and its allied militias have used similar “suicide” drones in attacks previously.