US warns vessels transiting Gulf amid tensions with Iran

Vessels transiting the Arabian Gulf, the Gulf of Oman and the Strait of Hormuz could encounter GPS interference or communications jamming, the US warned. (AFP)
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Updated 14 January 2020

US warns vessels transiting Gulf amid tensions with Iran

  • Tensions have soared since the US airstrike earlier this month that killed General Qassem Soleimani, Iran’s top general
  • Vessels transiting the Arabian Gulf, the Gulf of Oman and the Strait of Hormuz could encounter GPS interference or communications jamming

DUBAI: The United States on Tuesday warned of threats to commercial vessels in and around the Arabian Gulf in the wake of its confrontation with Iran.
Tensions have soared since the US airstrike earlier this month that killed Gen. Qassem Soleimani, Iran’s top general and the architect of its regional military activities. Iran responded by firing ballistic missiles at US troops in Iraq, without wounding anyone, and accidentally shot down a Ukrainian jetliner near Tehran, killing all 176 on board.
“Heightened military activity and increased political tensions in this region continue to pose serious threats to commercial vessels,” the US said in a maritime warning. “Associated with these threats is a potential for miscalculation or misidentification that could lead to aggressive actions.”
It said vessels transiting the Arabian Gulf, the Gulf of Oman and the Strait of Hormuz — through which one-third of all oil traded by sea passes — could encounter GPS interference or communications jamming.
It said some vessels have reported communications from “unknown entities falsely claiming to be US or coalition warships.”
It said ships contacted by Iranian forces should identify themselves and say that they are proceeding in accordance with international law. It advised ships to refuse to allow Iranian forces to board but not to forcibly resist them, and to immediately contact the US Fifth Fleet.
Iran was accused of sabotaging oil tankers in the Arabian Gulf last year. It denied those allegations, but acknowledged seizing a British-flagged oil tanker in response to the impounding of an Iranian oil tanker by authorities in Gibraltar. The Iranian tanker was suspected of intending to violate sanctions to deliver oil to Syria, a close ally of Iran. Both ships were released weeks later.
The tensions are rooted in President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw the US from Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers and to impose “maximum” economic sanctions. The sanctions have devastated Iran’s economy.


Iran records highest COVID-19 cases in over month

Updated 16 min 40 sec ago

Iran records highest COVID-19 cases in over month

  • Latest count takes the total cases identified in Iran since late February to 314,786
  • Iran made wearing masks mandatory in enclosed spaces

TEHRAN: Iran confirmed Tuesday over 2,700 new COVID-19 infections, its highest single-day count in more than a month, as the health ministry called for those without masks to be fined.
Deaths and infections from the novel coronavirus have been on a rising trajectory in the Islamic republic since hitting a months-long low in May.
This has prompted Iran to make wearing masks mandatory in enclosed spaces and reimpose restrictions lifted gradually since April to reopen the economy.
Despite the rule, people without masks can still be seen inside the capitals’ shops and banks, and state television often criticizes them for doing so.
“In the past 24 hours, new confirmed cases were reported to be 2,751,” health ministry spokeswoman Sima Sadat Lari said in televised remarks.
The number is the highest since June 5, when the ministry reported 2,886 infections in one day.
The latest count takes the total cases identified in Iran since late February to 314,786, Lari added.
Another 212 people died from the virus during the past 24 hours, bringing the overall toll to 17,617.
Iran’s deputy health minister called for those who fail to obey the mask rules to be fined, as the only penalty currently in place is the refusal of service in public places.
“Deterrent methods must naturally be used, one of which is fining those not wearing masks,” ISNA news agency quoted Iraj Harirchi as saying.
But those “financially unable to buy masks must be exempted,” he added, without elaborating how that could be determined.
Iran has suffered a sharp economic downturn since US President Donald Trump withdrew from a landmark nuclear agreement in 2018 and reimposed crippling sanctions.
The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the situation.
It has seen a drop in non-oil exports compounded by a tumbling currency and runaway inflation, piling new pressure on those already dependent on government cash handouts.
Masks in Iran cost from about 15 US cents for simple surgical ones to 68 cents for multilayered ones with respirators, while the minimum wage is currently $2.60 per day.