Seized Oil Tankers Spotted at Anchor Near Bandar Abbas, Iran, as Internal Turmoil Continues

Wim De Gent
By Wim De Gent
May 8, 2023Worldshare
Seized Oil Tankers Spotted at Anchor Near Bandar Abbas, Iran, as Internal Turmoil Continues
This satellite image from Planet Labs PBC shows the seized oil tankers Niovi (left) and Advantage Sweet off the coast of Bandar Abbas, Iran, on May 6, 2023. (Planet Labs PBC via AP)

Two oil tankers recently seized by Iran have been anchored near one of its key port cities on the strategic Strait of Hormuz, according to satellite photos.

Satellite images from Planet Labs PBC showed that the Advantage Sweet and the Niovi are being kept at a naval base just south of Bandar Abbas, a strategic port city and the capital of Iran’s Hormozgan province.

The capture of the two oil tankers represents just the latest ship seizure conducted by Iran amid tensions with the West over its rapidly advancing nuclear program.

On April 27, Iran seized the Marshall Islands-flagged Advantage Sweet, a 159,000-ton capacity tanker carrying a shipment of crude oil for Chevron—and bound for Texas—as it traveled through the Gulf of Oman. Tehran claimed that the vessel had struck another ship, but tracking data for the ship showed no erratic behavior on its trip.

Last week, fast-attack craft from Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy (IRGCN) surrounded the Niovi, a crude oil tanker with a freight capacity of 300,000 metric tons, and forced the ship to change course for Bandar Abbas. The Trump Administration designated the IRGCN a “Foreign Terrorist Organization” in 2019.

The Niovi has some history with Iran: data from S&P Global Market Intelligence showed that the Niovi received oil from a ship known then as the Oman Pride in July 2020.

The U.S. Treasury sanctioned the Oman Pride and persons associated with the vessel in August 2021 over its being “involved in an international oil smuggling network” that supported the Qods Force—the expeditionary unit of the IRGCN that operates across the Middle East.

The Qods force specializes in military intelligence operations and unconventional warfare—the use of covert forces, subversion, and guerilla warfare. The Qods force reports directly to the Supreme Leader of Iran, the Ayatollah Khamenei.

Leaked emails published online by Wikiran suggest that the crude oil cargo carried by the Niovi was sold to Chinese corporations.

NTD Photo
This satellite image from Planet Labs PBC shows the seized oil tanker Niovi off the coast of Bandar Abbas, Iran, on May 6, 2023. (Planet Labs PBC via AP)

The advocacy organization United Against Nuclear Iran, which has tracked crude shipments sanctioned by Tehran, “strongly suspects the seizure of the Niovi is related to a dispute over a shipment of Iranian oil,” said Claire Jungman, the chief of staff of the organization.

In February, a tanker owned by Oaktree Capital Management, a Los Angeles-based private equity firm, violated American sanctions against the Islamic nation by transporting a shipment of Iranian crude oil. The ship, the Suez Rajan—a 158,000-ton-capacity vessel—then went missing off the coast of Singapore.

Both The Financial Times as well as the maritime intelligence firm Ambrey have alleged that the ship was seized by order of American authorities. U.S. officials and those associated with the Suez Rajan have not responded to questions about the tanker’s disappearance.

Meanwhile on Sunday, an internet account named GhyamSarnegouni, which in Farsi means “Rise to Overthrow,” claimed responsibility for taking down websites linked to Iran’s Foreign Ministry—sites that remained down for hours for purported “scheduled maintenance and upgrades.”

Cached versions of the websites of Iranian diplomatic posts in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Munich, Germany, and Seoul, South Korea, appeared to have been defaced with a message reading: “Death to Khamenei, Hail Rajavi.”

Rajavi likely refers to Massoud Rajavi, the long-missing leader of the Iranian exile group Mujahideen-e-Khalq—or his wife Maryam, who is now the public face of the organization. The group was delisted as a terrorist organization by the United States in 2012.

“There is a great revolution in Iran, the uprising will go until the demolition of the palace of oppression,” the message read.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.


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