Iran’s navy hijacked an Arab tycoon’s yacht with five members of Kuwait’s royal family and four Britons aboard and was holding them for ransom, news reports said Sunday.
Government information officers in Kuwait, Bahrain and other Persian Gulf states said that they had no information about the incident, which reportedly occurred Thursday.
“We’re very puzzled by the Kuwaiti report,” said a Bahrain-based shipping source. “It hardly seems likely Iran would risk escalating tension in the region by such an act.”
Independent Television News in Britain quoted diplomatic sources in Kuwait as saying the four Britons are young women who were aboard the 82-foot yacht, owned by Kuwait’s Al Sabah royal family. However, another report said the four Britons are young men.
May Be Held for Ransom
The report said the yacht apparently was seized for ransom after it strayed into a sensitive area near Iran’s northern Farsi Island.
It said officials leaked information to the Kuwaiti newspaper Al Anba because Iran’s Revolutionary Guards were demanding a ransom and negotiations between Kuwait and Iran were going badly.
Al Anba said the yacht had come from France and docked briefly at Manama before leaving Thursday. Six hours after it sailed for Kuwait, a distress signal was picked up, the newspaper said.
Officials at Bahrain’s leading yacht club, the Marina Club, said their registers showed a distress signal received Thursday.
A man speaking English with an Arabic accent said: “My yacht is burning! What can I do?” according to a club official. The caller did not respond to a request for his location.
Al Anba identified those aboard the yacht only as royal family members from an unidentified Persian Gulf nation and four Britons. The newspaper said it had names of all those aboard but would not publish them “to avoid affecting the secret contacts going on with Iran at the highest levels to end the incident.”
In London, Britain’s Foreign Office said it could not immediately confirm the report.
“We’ve asked our embassies in the region, but they know nothing about it,” a spokesman said.
Shipping executives said there have been at least two cases in recent months of “pirates” seizing vessels in the northern gulf.
“They just turn over people aboard to the nearest fishing boat and seize the boat,” said one of the sources. The pirates most likely are Iranian, the sources said.
Al Anba said the yacht is probably at Farsi, the island used as a base for gunboats manned by Revolutionary Guards during the eight-year gulf war.
Kuwait was one of Iraq’s largest financial backers during the war and registered 11 tankers in the United States because Iran had made its shipping a target.