Commercial tanker fired on by Iranians in Gulf

ByAdam Schreck, Associated Press

An Iranian naval patrol boat fired on a Singapore-flagged commercial tanker in the Persian Gulf in apparent attempt to disable it over dispute on damage to an Iranian oil platform (Image: MT Alpine Eternity, courtesy Transpetrol)

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — No one onboard a Singapore-flagged commercial tanker that was fired on by an Iranian naval patrol in the Persian Gulf was injured and the ship did not sustain serious damage, the companies responsible for it said Friday.

The MT Alpine Eternity "was attacked by a number of small craft," which first fired warning shots and issued calls ordering the ship to stop on Thursday morning, according to a statement from ship manager Transpetrol and owner South Maritime Pte Ltd.

The crew ignored the order, changed course to head for Emirati territorial waters and called for help, they said.

The tanker had been in international waters on its way from Bahrain to the port of Fujairah in the United Arab Emirates. The shooting happened near Abu Musa, one of three islands near the Strait of Hormuz that are controlled by Iran but claimed by the Emirates.

"At the point when the order was ignored and when the vessel changed course it was directly fired upon," the companies said.

The tanker is now berthed in Dubai's Jebel Ali port, and all 23 crew members are uninjured. The companies reported the attack to authorities in Singapore and provided details of the incident to Emirati officials.

Thursday's shooting appears to stem from a financial dispute.

The Alpine Eternity was involved in an accident that damaged both the ship and an Iranian oil platform on March 22, and the Iranians have demanded payment for the damage, according to a U.S. official who was not authorized to discuss details by name.

In Iran, the semi-official Tasnim news agency quoted Habib Jadidi, an official from an Iranian consortium active in the oil platform, as saying the Singaporean tanker caused some $300 million in damages to the oil platform during the accident. He asked the UAE and regional countries for help in returning the tanker to Iran.

"Ignorance and lack of attention of the captain led to the accident," Jadidi was quoted as saying. He added, apparently in a reference to Transpetrol, that the company has so far not paid any compensation despite its lawyer being informed of the damages.

"We have pursued the case through the courts," he added.

The companies said Friday that the structure the ship hit in March was "previously uncharted" and that they have been in continuous dialogue with the owners of the platform. An initial survey of the damage has been carried out and talks are continuing "in good faith for full surveys to take place."

Sanctions against Iran have complicated the situation, but the companies and insurers are committed to resolving the issue, the companies said.

"Owners and Managers can see no reason why the Iranian authorities should try to seize the vessel, given the advanced state of negotiations and ongoing dialogue with the Iranian counterparts," they said.

Thursday's shooting was at least the second recent significant incident involving the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy and a commercial vessel in the Gulf.

A Marshall Islands-flagged cargo ship was recently detained by Iran for more than a week as it traveled through the Strait of Hormuz. Iran claimed the Danish shipping company that chartered the MV Maersk Tigris owed money to an Iranian firm.

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Associated Press writer Nasser Karimi in Tehran, Iran, and AP's National Security Writer Robert Burns in Washington contributed to this report.

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