Mystery in the Persian Gulf: Vanishing oil tanker near Iran fuels speculation

Sailing through the Strait of Hormuz, an Emirates-based oil tanker has vanished (from the radar). With the strait a flashpoint for US-Iran tensions, is Tehran to blame?

The Panamanian-flagged oil tanker ‘Riah’ usually transits oil from Dubai and Sharjah to Fujairah, a trip of just under 200 nautical miles that takes a tanker like this just over a day and a half at sea. it reported its position off the coast of Dubai on July 7.

However, while passing through the Strait of Hormuz on Saturday night, the vessel’s tracking signal abruptly turned off just before midnight, after it deviated from its course and pointed towards the Iranian coast. According to marine tracking data, the signal has not been turned on again since, and the ship has essentially vanished.

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So what happened? With US-Iranian tensions bubbling, and Iran blamed for several attacks on oil tankers near the strait in recent months, attention turned to the Islamic Republic. Israeli media picked up the story on Tuesday, and framed it as another development in the ongoing saga, highlighting Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s vow on Tuesday to respond to Britain’s seizure of an Iranian tanker near Gibraltar earlier this month.

A spokesman for the shipping company that owns the ‘Riah’ – Sharjah-based Mouj-al-Bahar General Trading – told TradeWinds that the ship had been “hijacked” by Iranian authorities. CNN reported that the US intelligence community “increasingly believes” the tanker was forced into Iranian waters by the naval wing of Iran’s elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, but has not revealed its sources.


CNN has learned: US intel increasingly believes UAE tanker MT RIAH forced into Iranian waters over the weekend by naval forces. UAE isn't talking. Some Gulf sources say ship simply broke down/towed by Iran. US says tho no contact with crew. Last location Qesham Island.

However, Tehran has not acknowledged the disappearance of the ‘Riah,’ even to deny the alleged ‘hijacking.’ Nor has the US Fifth Fleet, which patrols the region and has seen its presence bolstered by B-52 bombers and thousands of troops in recent months.

Foreign provocation is another explanation that will likely be thrown around. In light of recent news, the idea that Iran would interdict a tanker is one that will be taken seriously, but the United States has had ample opportunity to take military action against Iran recently. 

President Donald Trump said that he was “cocked and loaded” to strike Iran last month after Tehran downed an American spy drone it said was flying in its airspace, but ultimately called off the attack. In short, if either side wished for war, another provocation would likely be unnecessary.

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With provocation unlikely and Iranian responsibility as yet unknown, there are other reasons why a ship might simply vanish. Israeli website compiles reports of ships it believes are switching off their trackers to dock in Iranian ports and load up on oil, in violation of American sanctions. The site reported a Chinese vessel – the ‘Sino Energy 1’ – disappearing late last month near Iran, before reappearing fully loaded and heading the opposite direction six days later. It is currently passing Singapore en route back to China.

However, an Emirates-based ship is extremely unlikely to be trading oil with Iran, given the Emirates’ political differences with Tehran and close alliance with Saudi Arabia, the world’s second-largest oil producer and largest exporter.

Further complicating matters, an Emirati security official told local media that “the tanker in question is neither UAE owned nor operated, does not carry Emirati personnel, and did not emit a distress call. We are monitoring the situation.”

With conflicting reports circulating and nothing concrete yet, the whereabouts of the ‘Riah’ is as opaque as the crude oil it carries.


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Iranian president says U.S. has failed on every path taken against the Islamic Revolution

Tehran, July 14 (RHC)-- Iranian President Hassan Rouhani says the United States has failed on every path it has taken against Iran.  President Rouhani told a large crowd of people in the northeastern city of Shirvan, in North Khorasan Province, that whatever Washington had tried against Iran -- including “the harshest of sanctions” -- had wound up in failure.

“It’s been 14 months that the world’s largest economic and military power has been imposing the harshest of sanctions against the Iranian nation, sanctions that would have taken any other nation down,” the Iranian president said. “But the heroic, vigilant, and resistant nation of Islamic Iran has firmly withstood those sanctions over this period.”

“Whatever path the Americans took — be it social, political, and legal — led to failure,” President Rouhani said.  He pointed to recent meetings of the United Nations and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), where the U.S. failed to advance its agenda against Iran.

Iran says the UN nuclear watchdog’s special meeting held at Washington’s request backfired and turned into another failure for Americans.

Last year, U.S. President Donald Trump unilaterally pulled his country out of a 2015 multilateral nuclear deal with Iran and imposed what he called the “toughest ever” sanctions against Tehran, notably targeting its energy sector.

Those sanctions have hurt the Iranian economy, but all of the other parties to the Iran deal, which have stayed in the agreement, have been holding meetings with Tehran to discuss how they can make the pact properly work for the Iranian side as well.

Tehran has said it would potentially scrap the deal if its partners failed to do enough for Iran to achieve the economic benefits that it is promised under the agreement.

Edited by Ed Newman
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Russia, China, Iran & Venezuela developing crypto to challenge US financial control – study

A new report by the American Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) says the US’ geopolitical adversaries are deploying blockchain technology to help avoid sanctions and counter US financial power.

According to the FDD, with the increase of adoption of cryptocurrencies around the world, efforts are underway to build new systems for transferring value that work outside of conventional banking infrastructure.

Governments in Russia, China, Iran, and Venezuela are experimenting with the technology that underpins the crypto market, said the report. They are prioritizing blockchain technology as a “key component of their efforts to counter US financial power.”

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“Russia, Iran, and Venezuela have initiated blockchain technology experiments that their leaders paint as tools to offset US financial coercive power and increase sanctions resistance. China is also wary of US financial power and the ever-present threat of sanctions against Chinese officials,” the study finds.

The efforts of the four nations go beyond mere sanctions evasion, according to the report, which said that they “seek to reduce the potency of unilateral and multilateral sanctions by developing alternative payment systems for global commerce.”

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The authors of the report noted that the US position of influence is not necessarily permanent.

“Technology has created a potential pathway to alternative financial value transfer systems outside of US control. The target timeline may be two to three decades, but these actors are developing the building blocks now. They envision a world in which cryptocurrency technology helps them eclipse US financial power, much the way that the dollar once eclipsed the British pound.”

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Iran’s Revolutionary Guards deny trying to stop UK tanker in Persian Gulf

Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) have denied reports that their patrol boats tried to stop a British oil tanker in the Persian Gulf.

There were “no encounters” between the Iranian warships and foreign vessels at the time when the incident is alleged to have taken place, the IRGC’s naval unit said in a statement on Thursday, cited by Fars News.

The IRGC also reiterated that they are prepared to “act swiftly and decisively” should they receive an order to capture any foreign ship.

London said three Iranian patrol boats attempted to stop its oil tanker, ‘British Heritage,’ as it was sailing through the Strait of Hormuz to the Persian Gulf. According to the British government statement, the Iranian vessels were forced to back away after receiving a warning from the Royal Navy frigate, HMS ‘Monrose,’ which was escorting another tanker in the area.

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Tensions between Tehran and London escalated last week when the Royal Marines and Gibraltar’s police seized a Panama-flagged and Singapore-owned supertanker near the Strait of Gibraltar. The ship was suspected of transporting oil to Syria in violation of the EU sanctions on Damascus.

According to the US, the captured tanker was carrying Iranian oil. Tehran had acknowledged its ties to the ship but denied that it was traveling to Syria. Iranian officials blasted the seizure of the tanker as “piracy” and demanded that it be released.

Major General Mohsen Rezaee of the IRGC, who leads the influential Expediency Discernment Council, had suggested that Tehran should seize a British oil tanker if London refuses to return the ship captured off Gibraltar.

On Wednesday, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani warned London that its actions against the tanker would have “consequences in the future.”

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Pompeo threatens Iran with more 'sanctions and isolation' after nuclear expansion

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has warned that Iran faces “further isolation and sanctions” as Tehran increases its uranium enrichment beyond the limit set by the 2015 nuclear deal.

“Iran’s latest expansion of its nuclear program will lead to further isolation and sanctions,” Pompeo tweeted on Sunday. “Nations should restore the longstanding standard of no enrichment for Iran’s nuclear program. Iran’s regime, armed with nuclear weapons, would pose an even greater danger to the world.”

Speaking to reporters at an impromptu interview in New Jersey later in the afternoon, President Donald Trump added that "Iran better be careful" after breaching the nuclear cap.

As of Sunday, Iran is set to start enriching uranium above the agreed maximum purification level of 3.67 percent set by the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), a deal that the US unilaterally withdrew from last year.

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said earlier on Sunday that this step is intended as a “remedial” measure intended to force the European parties to the deal to fulfil their commitments. Zarif also added that the increase is permitted by the deal if Iran believes any signatories have not kept up their end.

Tehran has insisted that the Europeans expand their special payment system with Iran to trade in the country’s oil, a defiance of US sanctions. At present, the system only allows the trade of food and medicines.

Despite Pompeo’s warning, a purification level of 3.67 percent is still well below the roughly 90 percent needed to produce a nuclear weapon.

Since withdrawing from the JCPOA a year ago, Washington has reapplied biting economic sanctions to the Islamic Republic, targeting Iran’s energy, shipping and banking sectors, as well as the country’s military. Furthermore, the US has threatened to sanction any country importing Iranian oil, with no exemptions.

European leaders have sought to keep the deal alive, without upsetting Washington. French President Emmanuel Macron said on Saturday that he intends to “resume dialogue” with Tehran, but cautioned that non-specific consequences “would necessarily” follow Iran’s breaking of the enrichment threshold. Britain and Germany both urged Iran to halt any further enrichment, but no European country has outright threatened sanctions.

The Trump administration’s hardline policy on Iran has stepped up in recent months, as military tensions flared in the Persian Gulf. The US accused Iran of bombing two oil tankers in the gulf, then promised retaliatory strikes when Iran downed an American spy drone late June. President Trump said that he called off the strikes at the last minute, but warned that the US was “cocked and loaded” to respond.

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Iran’s ‘duty’ to seize British tanker if UK fails to release captured ship – senior official at IRGC

Tehran should seize a British tanker if the UK does not release the oil supertanker captured by Royal Marines near Gibraltar, a senior official in Tehran has said.

On Thursday, British marines and Gibraltar police seized the Panama-flagged tanker off the southern coast of the Iberian Peninsula. The vessel is owned by a Singaporean company.

Gibraltar’s Chief Minister Fabian Picardo claimed that the ship was transporting crude oil to Syria “in violation” of the EU sanctions placed on Damascus. According to Madrid, which considers the waters off Gibraltar to be its own, the British captured the ship at the request of the US. Officials in Washington, meanwhile, welcomed the seizure of the vessel, saying that it was carrying Iranian oil.

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Later in the day, Iran summoned the British ambassador and slammed the seizure of the vessel as “a destructive step” and “a form of piracy.” Foreign Ministry's spokesperson, Abbas Mousavi argued that the sanctions against Syria are illegal under international law and Iran does not recognize them.

On Friday, Major General Mohsen Rezaee of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, who is also the secretary of the influential Expediency Discernment Council, tweeted that Iran should be ready for counter measures.

Should Britain refuse to release the ship, it is the authorities’ “duty to seize a British oil tanker,” he argued.

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The detained vessel had a 28-person crew, mostly Indians, but also some Pakistanis and Ukrainians. They are being interviewed as witnesses, not criminal suspects, Gibraltarian officials said. The authorities are currently working to establish the nature of the cargo and its destination.

Ali Rizk, a Middle East-based journalist and writer, told RT that, by seizing the tanker, Britain may have wanted to side with Washington by “playing its part in anti-Iranian policy.”

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U.S. Cyber Command back in the Headlines

Although the United States Cyber Command (USCYBERCOM) mission was top secret at first, it has gradually become crystal clear.

Its operations, surrounded by mystery for over a decade, are back in the headlines. According to press reports, after the downing of a U.S. drone last Thursday and the subsequent last-minute cancellation of airstrikes against Iranian’s military targets by Trump, the USCYBERCOM elite forces stroke back with a computer virus attack.

According to AP, the computer virus attack targets military objectives and “was a demonstration of the U.S.’s increasingly mature cyber military capabilities and its more aggressive cyber strategy under the Trump administration. Over the last year U.S. officials have focused on persistently engaging with adversaries in cyberspace and undertaking more offensive operations.”

In the same way, the New York Times released this month a news article where it was confirmed that Washington tried to sabotage Russia’s power grid and insert some computer viruses to activate them in case of conflict, or signs of a new Kremlin’s meddling in the U.S. internal affairs.

The BBC affirms that the USCYBERCOM is a virtual army, a new type of weaponry, a never seen before fight machinery.

The article adds that such elite unit of the Pentagon is responsible for defending the country and attacking its enemies in a war zone made up of codes and bits since 2009. The Cyber Command is one of the 10 combatant commands of the DoD (Department of Defense).

In the view of Michael Warner, USCYBERCOM historian who was quoted by the BBC, the creation of USCYBERCOM marked the culmination of more than a decade’s worth of institutional change and was then nominated as a special unit working in collaboration with National Security Agency (NSA) sharing its headquarter in Fort Meade, Maryland.

In 2017, the Pentagon decided to appoint USCYBERCOM as a “combatant command” and suggested the possibility of separating it from the NSA. A year later, the unit culminated the process of creation of its Cyber Combat Mission Force, which gathered nearly 6,200 soldiers organized in 133 teams.

“The Cyber Command is responsible for carrying out operations in the military computer network whereas the NSA is responsible for cyber espionage,” pointed out Max Smeets — cybersecurity investigator at Stanford University Center for International Security and Cooperation (CISAC).

According to its website, the Cyber Command not only “leads operations and defends the U.S. networks.” But they also, “at the appropriate time,” look to “engage in military operations in the cyberspace” to guarantee the freedom of action of the U.S. and its allies” while “preventing the enemy to do the same.”

Moreover, Smeets believes that even though military cyber organizations (units, services, commands) operate under different legal, political, and operational restrictions, most of them lead a very specific operation:

“Causing a specific cyber effect, targeting, in a certain given period of time; with a strategic mission and overcoming other possible negative implications.”

Michael Ahern, Director of Power System at the Worcester’s Polytechnic Institute, told BBC Mundo thatthe security of electricity grids has become a concern for many nations,not only because of the possibility of “terrorist” attacks “, but also by “enemy“ governments.

He explained that “as modern societies become more and more dependent on computers and the exchange of data through the Internet, they have also become more vulnerable to cyber threats.

“Hence, a cyber-attack may potentially damage water pumping stations and other services of critical need can have more devastating effects than weapons in conventional wars.

“That is why it is likely that all nations are working to improve their cybernetic capabilities There have been a couple of attacks that caused power cuts in Ukraine, and in North America, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission requires network operators that comply with a critical infrastructure protection plan,” he pointed out.

In March, Venezuela suffered a cyber-attack leaving the country in the dark. Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro denounced back then that “the sabotage against the power grip was carried out in order to trigger civil outrage aiming at undermining the political power” had been ordered by the U.S. Southern Command and staged from Houston and Chicago, two American cities.

According to experts quoted by the BBC, the USCYBERCOM has drastically grown in the last decade. Hence, its budget, workforce and operational range have multiplied considerably. The budget allocated by the government to this unit —US$120 in 2010— topped US$600 in 2018.

From June 2018 on, the Pentagon has granted even further authority to USCYBERCOM to implement more aggressive campaigns. Under the auspice of the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act, the USCYBERCOM is allowed to “carry out clandestine military activities” in the network without seeking the President’s clearance.

Translated by Sergio A. Paneque Díaz/CubaSí Translation Staff

UAE: Convincing Evidence Needed on Gulf Tanker Attacks

A war of words between Washington and Tehran has escalated over the tanker attacks and Iran's downing last week of an unmanned American drone.

United Arab Emirates (UAE) officials say clear and convincing evidence was needed to place blame for attacks on four oil tankers off its coast last month and tensions in the region needed to be dialled down.

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The United States and Saudi Arabia have publicly blamed Iran for a May 12 attack on t​​​​wo Saudi oil tankers, a Norwegian tanker and an Emirati vessel that were damaged in the act of agression in the Gulf of Oman. Tehran has denied any involvement.

The UAE has submitted the results of an investigation into the attack that indicated that a state entity was behind it, without naming the country.

“Honestly, we can’t point the blame at any country, because we don’t have evidence,” UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah Bin Zayed Al Nahyan said on Wednesday in Moscow with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov. “If there is a country that has the evidence, then I’m convinced that the international community will listen to it. But we need to make sure the evidence is precise and convincing.”

The UAE official stated his nation did not want any "more turbulence and ... more worries" for the region.

Sheikh Abdullah also said discussions were under way for a global coalition to protect oil shipping lanes in the region.

A senior U.S. State Department official said Monday the Navy was building a "proactive deterrence" program that would see a coalition of nations provide both material and financial contributions.

Around 20 percent of the world's crude passes through the Strait of Hormuz where the May incident took place and where another two vessels were attacked in June, making it the world's busiest shipping area for oil.

Sheikh Abdullah said the project would involved regional and other "(oil) exporting and importing" countries.

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