Iran says it has seized foreign oil tanker and crew in the Persian Gulf

Iranian forces say seized ship was 'smuggling one million litres of fuel' [File: Atta Kenare/AFP]

Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard forces have seized a foreign oil tanker with a crew of 12, which they accuse of smuggling oil in the Persian Gulf, Iran’s state TV reported Thursday. The report did not name the vessel, but Iranian state TV earlier said the Guard came to the tanker’s aid when it sent a distress call before impounding it, according to the Reuters news agency

Al Jazeera’s Dorsa Jabbari, reporting from Tehran, said the ship impounded was the same one towed by Iranian forces.

“The Iranians say this tanker was initially rescued on Sunday after it sent out distress signals. But once it was towed into Larak island, they say they understood it was smuggling oil and that’s when they seized it,” she said, adding that the crew were arrested.

Tanker dispute: Captain of Iranian vessels arrested (1:52)

“The state TV, quoting the commander of the Revolutionary Guard, said Iran will not stand for this kind of piracy in the Strait of Hormuz.”

The reports did not identify the tanker or its nationality, so it was not immediately clear whether the statement referred to the Emirati ship, the Riah, which has not been heard from since it was traveling in the Persian Gulf late Saturday.

In its statement, the Revolutionary Guards denied Western news reports about a tanker seized over the weekend, the semiofficial Mehr News Agency reported — an apparent reference to the Emirati vessel, indicating that the tanker seized on Sunday was a different ship.

The Iranian Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday that Iranian forces over the weekend had come to the aid of a ship in distress and towed it to shore for repairs. The ministry did not identify the ship or the nation it hailed from, making it unclear in that case, as well, whether the vessel was the missing Emirati tanker.

There has been widespread speculation that the Riah was taken by Iran. The country has long been at odds with the Emirates and Saudi Arabia, both American allies that support opposing sides in the civil war in Yemen.

Last year, President Trump withdrew the United States from the 2015 pact limiting Iran’s nuclear program, reimposing economic sanctions that had been suspended under the deal. He imposed new sanctions this year.

Iranian officials have threatened retaliation, including possible disruption of shipments from the gulf through the Strait of Hormuz, which carries about 20 percent of the world’s oil.

American officials have blamed Iran for apparent attacks on tankers in May and June, which followed the new sanctions that aimed to cut off Iran’s ability to sell oil, a pillar of its economy.

After those penalties were imposed, Iran warned that it would step back from compliance with the deal, and in the past month it has exceeded the agreement’s limits on the size of its enriched uranium stockpile and on how highly it could enrich the metal.

Last month, Iran shot down an American surveillance drone that it said had violated its airspace; United States officials said the aircraft was over international waters. In response, Mr. Trump ordered, then called off, a military strike against Iran.

Two weeks ago, British forces seized an Iranian tanker near Gibraltar, charging that it was violating European Union sanctions against Syria. Iranian officials called for the seizure of a British ship as retribution, and the British Navy reported last week that one of its ships had chased away Iranian boats that were trying to impede a British tanker.

Several Iranian news organizations said the seizure took place near Larak Island in the Strait of Hormuz. But one outlet, Mehr, said it occurred about 400 miles to the northwest, near Kharg Island.

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