Iranian military fire on Norwegian ship

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Alpine Eternity off the cape of South Africa. Photo: Flickr/Bob Adams
18:09 CEST+02:00
A Norwegian ship that allegedly came under fire from Iranian forces in the Gulf on Thursday was wanted for causing $300 million in damage to an oil rig, an Iranian official has claimed.

According to US officials, the Alpine Eternity, owned by Norway's Transpetrol and registered in Singapore, was the target of warning shots from Iranian Revolutionary Guard sailors on Thursday.

After hearing a radio call for help, the United Arab Emirates dispatched coastguard vessels to aid the tanker and the Iranian boats then left the area.

In the first Iranian remarks since the incident, an oil official said that the ship was wanted for hitting a rig at around 3am on March 22.

"We want neighbouring countries to take the necessary cooperation on confiscation and handing over of this particular vessel," Habib Jadidi, a director of Iran's giant South Pars gas field operations, told Shana, a news outlet belonging to Iran's oil ministry.

The ship fled the scene on Thursday and is in Dubai, according to the Iranian report, which did not make any mention of warning shots being fired.

Jadidi blamed the ship's captain for allowing the vessel to drift 25-30 miles (40 to 48 kilometres) off course in March, and though the Norwegian company had since been informed of the damage it had not taken steps to pay compensation, he said.

"His dereliction and negligence has caused this accident," Jadidi said of the captain. "The collision has created a very dangerous situation for the wells. If it is not quickly tackled, wellhead installations will be damaged and if no gas flows from the wells it could lead to unpleasant hazards and pollution."

The incident reflects rising tensions in the Gulf, exacerbated by the conflict in Yemen in which Iran-backed Shiite rebels are engaged in a conflict against a Saudi-led coalition of Sunni Arab states and pro-Yemeni government forces.

Thursday's incident appeared similar to one in the Gulf last month in which Iran took a Marshall Islands-flagged cargo ship, the Maersk Tigris, into custody.

The Iranians seized the vessel after firing warning shots and cited a commercial dispute with the Danish shipping group Maersk which hired out the ship. The Maersk Tigris was eventually released after Iranian authorities said the matter was settled.

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