Iran Seizes Foreign Oil Tanker Accused of Smuggling Fuel: State TV

Iran Seizes Foreign Oil Tanker Accused of Smuggling Fuel: State TV
This undated Ministry of Defence handout shows the HMS Duncan, a Type 45 Destroyer, which will relieve HMS Montrose in the region as Iran threatens to disrupt shipping. (Ben Sutton/Ministry of Defence via AP)

The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps has seized a foreign oil tanker because it was smuggling fuel, according to the country’s state television.

Iran’s Press TV said on July 18 that the Guard Corps seized the “foreign vessel,” which was supposedly smuggling one million barrels of fuel. It was seized near Larak Island in the Persian Gulf.

According to Iran’s Fars News agency, the ship had 12 foreign crew members on board and capacity for 2 million liters of fuel.

The Revolutionary Guards said the impounded vessel—which Iranian authorities have not yet named—was the same one it towed after it sent a distress call.

“The vessel that Iran towed to its waters after receiving a distress call was later seized with the order from the court as we found out that it was smuggling fuel,” the guards said in a statement quoted by state television.

The Panamanian-flagged oil tanker MT Riah stopped transmitting its location overnight on Sunday near Qeshm Island, which has a Revolutionary Guard base on it, according to data listed on tracking site Maritime Traffic.

State press insisted the guards didn’t seize any other ships in the Gulf.

A U.S. defense official said earlier this week that America “has suspicions” that Iran had seized the oil tanker when it turned off its tracker in the Strait of Hormuz. An Emirati official said the small oil tanker made no distress call before switching off its tracker.

The 58-meter (190-foot) Riah typically made trips from Dubai and Sharjah on the UAE’s west coast before going through the strait and heading to Fujairah on the UAE’s east coast.

The acknowledgment that a vessel has been seized by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard appears to contradict statements by Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman on Wednesday saying Iran had aided a foreign oil tanker with a malfunction.

Oil prices rose about 1 percent on Thursday after Iran said it had seized the foreign oil tanker.

The move by the Guard comes amid heightened tensions between Iran and the United States. The United States has sent thousands of additional troops, nuclear-capable B-52 bombers, and advanced fighter jets into the Middle East amid the heightened tensions.

Earlier this month, the British Royal Marines seized an Iranian oil tanker in Gibraltar that the government said was attempting to transport oil to Syria, which would violate European Union sanctions, reported The Jerusalem Post.

“HMS Montrose was forced to position herself between the Iranian vessels and British Heritage and issue verbal warnings to the Iranian vessels, which then turned away,” a British government spokesman said in a statement.

British Foreign Minister Jeremy Hunt said on July 13 that he conveyed to Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif that the ship would be released if Iran promised not to go to Syria.

Iran Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei responded publicly on Tuesday, saying: “Evil Britain commits piracy and steals our ship … and gives it a legal appearance. Iran and those who believe in our system will not leave such evil deeds unanswered.”

Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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