Guess who’s now become involved in the tanker seizure scandal unfolding in the Strait of Hormuz? If you guessed Russia, you’re right. UK media now suggest, citing unnamed security sources, that Russian covert ops may have spoofed the Stena Impero’s GPS receivers and steered it into Iranian waters.
The Daily Mirror report claims that UK intelligence service MI6 and the Government Communication Headquarters (GCHQ) initiated an investigation on whether omnipotent Russian spies used their cyber-warfare prowess to spoof the GPS signal on the UK-flagged Stena Impero tanker seized by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC).
Citing unnamed security sources, the report says British intelligence believes Russian and Iranian black ops units could have cooperated to spoof the ship’s GPS and steer it into Iranian waters.
“Russia has the technology to spoof GPS and may have helped Iran in this venture, as it was extremely brazen,” an unnamed source said.
Tehran officials note that the ship was seized after it collided with an Iranian fishing ship. According to Iran, the seized tanker switched off its Automatic Identification System (AIS), which meant the ship’s radar visibility for surrounding vessels became significantly limited.
According to the rules of navigation in the Strait of Hormuz, this system must be turned on to avoid collisions in the narrow and crowded strait. Even US military ships must broadcast AIS signals in the busy waters following a string of deadly collisions in 2017.
According to the Daily Express report, investigators will “look into whether there is a technological footprint or whether western spy planes in the area picked up any suspicious activity.” It is unclear what “technological footprint” could be found days after the incident, as GPS spoofers are, at root level, only sophisticated radio jammers.
The official London has not yet commented on the reports.
It is not the first time Russia has been accused of wrongdoing without proof. In 2018, UK officials were determined to accuse Russia of the alleged poisoning of former intelligence officer Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury long before any investigation was complete. Russia repeatedly denied any involvement in the alleged poisoning.
Currently, the seized UK-flagged ship remains in Iranian custody, as Tehran investigates the incident. Earlier last week, another ship of undisclosed registration was seized in the Strait of Hormuz, reportedly carrying one million litres of smuggled fuel.
In early July, Gibraltar law enforcement, in cooperation with the British Royal Marines, seized a Panama-registered Iranian tanker, claiming it was transporting oil to Syria in violation of international sanctions. Tehran denies that Syria was the destination and demands the ship’s release, but the ship remains in custody and its detention period was on Friday extended to 15 August, according to France 24.