The UAE government has confirmed that the oil tanker Riah went missing near the Strait of Hormuz earlier this week, but said the ship is not UAE owned and does not carry any Emirati crew.
The Panamanian-flagged Riah, which entered Iranian waters and stopped transmitting its location, also "does not carry Emirati personnel," said Salem Al Zaabi, director of the International Security Cooperation Department at the UAE's Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The UAE is monitoring the situation with international partners, he added in a report carried by state news agency WAM.
"The tanker in question is neither owned nor operated by the UAE," he said in a statement.
The vessel was passing through the Strait of Hormuz, a shipping chokepoint at the mouth of the Arabian Gulf, before it disappeared from AIS three days ago, according to the Associated Press.
The news agency said the US "has suspicions" that Iran took control of the tanker, citing an unidentified defense official.
Iran’s foreign ministry last night took to Twitter to issue its own version of events.
The oil tanker, which is 30 years old and small by modern standards (just 2,000 deadweight tons), required assistance and issued a distress call, according to Abbas Mousavi, spokesperson for Iran’s foreign ministry.
"According to international regulations... Iranian forces approached it and using a tugboat brought it into Iranian waters for necessary repairs," he said via an official government Twitter account.
The incident brings to light the heightened tensions in the Gulf. Ships regularly require assistance from different national naval and emergency services, but the Riah incident comes just days after Iran allegedly tried to intercept the 130,000 ton UK oil tanker British Heritage.
Iran was allegedly acting in retaliation for the UK’s seizure of an Iranian tanker off Gibraltar, which London says was carrying oil to Syria in defiance of an international embargo.
Those incidents themselves came just weeks after Iran was blamed for several attacks on merchant shipping in the Strait of Hormuz. In May and June, six tankers were attacked just outside the Gulf.
Amid the heightened tensions the US has deployed aircraft carrier naval force in the Arabian Gulf, while the UK has signaled its intention to send an additional warship into the region, the third in as many months.
Britain has already sent the HMS Duncan, an air defence destroyer, to cover for frigate HMS Montrose while it undergoes maintenance in nearby Bahrain, and will also send frigate HMS Kent "later this year".
Reports said it would head to the Gulf in mid-September.
The UK defense ministry said the deployments were "long-planned" to ensure "an unbroken presence" in the crucial waterway and "do not reflect an escalation in the UK posture in the region".