Hong Kong flagged vessel attacked near Fujairah could ignite geo-political tensions

Position of SC Taipei off the coast of Iran. Credit: IHS Markit AISLive Ship Tacking Portal

A suspected attack by Iran on a Hong-Kong flagged chemical tanker near Fujairah, Iran, on 14 April, could spark tensions with China, according to maritime security consultants Dryad Global.

The SC Taipei was boarded by armed men whilst at anchor awaiting to approach Al-Jubail port, Saudi Arabia. The vessel was then taken into Iranian waters, four nautical miles off Mogh-e Qanbareh-ye Kuh Mobarak, where no known commercial activity is carried out.

“While Beijing is not responsible for Hong Kong vessels, there is a realistic possibility that China would view the detention of a Hong Kong vessel as a proxy assault on its own sovereignty,” commented Dryad Global.

Currently, due to US sanctions, China is one of the only nation states remaining that still buys Iranian oil. Therefore an attack by Iranian forces would be counterintuitive, however, Dryad consultants said that  It cannot nor should not be ruled out that Iran has conducted this operation, or that Iranian naval/Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corp units have acted in haste”.

Dryad has suggested that the move may be to deflect internal focus away from the COVID-19 outbreak within Iran, as well as the collapsing oil price and the impact of US sanctions, which could manifest as a threat to the regime.

This is not the first time that Iran has held commercial vessels to send a political message, detaining a tanker in the Persian gulf in August 2019, and the UK flagged Stena Impero in July 2019 in response to the detention of an Iranian vessel Grace 1 in Gibraltar.

The situation is still ongoing and it is currently unclear whether the SC Taipei is in distress or is being assisted by Iran in some way, cautioned Dryad Global.