Tehran, Iran – Iran has seized an oil tanker in the Strait of Hormuz in what is the second such incident in the region in a week, as tension with the United States continues.
The Middle East-based US 5th Fleet and Iranian media confirmed on Wednesday that the naval force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) stopped a tanker in the busy waterway.
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A video released by the 5th Fleet appeared to show about a dozen fast-attack IRGC vessels approaching a tanker that was identified as the Panama-flagged Niovi. The US said the tanker was forced to reverse course into Iranian territorial waters during the “unlawful seizure”.
Iran’s state-run IRNA news agency confirmed that the vessel had been seized by the IRGC, but did not add further details.
The Iranian judiciary’s Mizan news agency reported that the Tehran prosecutor has said the seizure was the result of a judicial order, following a complaint by a plaintiff.
The IRGC did not immediately confirm the name of the vessel or why it was stopped.
A few days before, the naval force of the Iranian army seized another oil tanker in the Gulf of Oman last Thursday in what the 5th Fleet branded a violation of international law and a “threat to maritime security and global economy”.
Iran, however, said the Turkish-operated, Chinese-owned tanker named Advantage Sweet, which was bound for Houston, Texas carrying Kuwaiti crude oil for US energy firm Chevron Corp, had collided with an Iranian vessel, leaving several crewmen missing and injured.
Iran had also said the Advantage Sweet, which had about two dozen Indian crew members, had moved through the Strait of Hormuz and fled the scene despite repeated warnings.
However, Western media reported that the seizure of the vessel had come as a response to the confiscation of an oil tanker by the US days earlier in an effort to enforce its unilateral sanctions on Tehran.
Late on Wednesday, the United States called on Iran to free the ship.
“Iran’s harassment of vessels and interference with navigational rights in regional and international waters are contrary to international law and disruptive to regional stability and security,” Vedant Patel, State Department spokesman, said.
“We join the international community in calling the Iranian government and the Iranian Navy to immediately release the ship and its crew,” he said.
Tehran and Washington have engaged in such tit-for-tat moves before, with the US trying to confiscate a cargo of Iranian oil near Greece last year, prompting Iran to seize two Greek tankers and hold them for months. The supreme court in Greece ultimately ordered the cargo returned to Iran, and the Greek vessels were also released.
The US has imposed its harshest-ever sanctions on Iran since 2018, when it unilaterally abandoned a 2015 nuclear deal with world powers that put curbs on Iran’s nuclear programme in exchange for lifting sanctions.
The seizure on Wednesday came as Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi arrived in Damascus for a two-day trip and met Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in what Tehran hailed as a “strategic victory” in the region amid US political failures.