Foreign vessel with 12 crew carrying ‘smuggled fuel’ seized in Persian Gulf – Iran’s IRGC

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards have seized a “foreign vessel,” saying it was “smuggling” one million liters of fuel, the Islamic Republic’s media reported. It comes amid Tehran’s quarrel with London over a seized tanker.

The tanker was intercepted by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) near Larak Island in the Strait of Hormuz off Iran’s coast, the bottleneck point for maritime traffic from the Persian Gulf. According to a statement aired by Iranian state TV, the ship was seized on July 14. The IRGC would not provide details about the ownership of the vessel, but said there were 12 crew members on board when it was detained.

The ship in question may be the UAE-owned, Panamanian-flagged MT ‘Riah,’ which went missing last Sunday while passing the strait and was presumed captured by the IRGC. Tehran earlier insisted the ship had experienced a technical malfunction and was towed into Iranian waters for repair.

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British authorities previously seized a supertanker carrying Iranian crude through the Strait of Gibraltar, claiming its cargo was destined for Syria and thus was subject to EU sanctions targeting Iran’s ally. Tehran compared the arrest to an act of piracy and demanded the release of the ship, the Panamanian-flagged ‘Grace 1.’

Iran accused the UK of doing Washington’s bidding and helping the US attempt to stifle the Islamic Republic’s oil exports.

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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.

@barbarastarrcnn

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 TankerTrackers.com 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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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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Russia Warns of Possible Conflict in Persian Gulf

Moscow, Jun 20 (Prensa Latina) Russia on Thursday confirmed its fears of the emergence of a new war in the Persian Gulf region and therefore calls for full-time work to stabilize the situation in that area.

We still have time to think it over, stop the military escalation and avoid a fall to an uncontrolled conflict, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said.

I think that most of the international community shares this position and considers it the only alternative, said Riabkov, who lamented that such recommendations in no way have repercussions in the United States.

Washington continues its efforts to tighten the crisis and we have no doubt that the US military and political leadership will maintain its maneuvers to worsen the situation and increase the pressure on Iran.

One week ago, a fire was reported on board of the Front Altair and Kokuka Courageous tankers in the Oman Strait, near Iran, coinciding with the visit to that country of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

The White House immediately accused Tehran of an attack against the two vessels. The North American media first talked of the impact of torpedoes and after that, of mine explosions. They blamed Iran in both cases.

 

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‘No need for aliens’: Iran says it doesn't want foreign ships in Persian Gulf

The Iranian navy are “vigilantly controlling” the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz and there is no need for the naval presence of “alien” countries, Tehran’s new naval chief has declared.

“We can ensure the security of the Persian Gulf and there is no need for the presence of aliens like the US and the countries whose home is not in here,” Rear Admiral Alireza Tangsiri, head of the naval branch of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), said on Monday, according to the Tasnim news agency.

Having “outsiders” operate nuclear-powered ships in the Gulf creates potential environmental problems not just for Iran but its Arab neighbors as well, Tangsiri said. He also accused Iran’s enemies of misrepresenting reality “in order to deploy forces to the region and sell their weapons.”

Tangsiri’s comments were reported with alarm in the US media, complete with warnings that Tehran might decide to close the Strait of Hormuz, a vital shipping lane for Gulf oil exports. Tankers carry 18.5 million barrels of crude oil through the strait every day.

 
FILE PHOTO. © Hamed Jafarnejad

The Iranian admiral’s words are guaranteed to ruffle the feathers of the US military, which sees itself as the principal protector of “security and stability” in the Gulf. The US and its Arab allies “stand ready to ensure the freedom of navigation and the free flow of commerce wherever international law allows,” Lieutenant Chloe Morgan, spokesperson for the US Naval Forces Central Command, told Fox News on Monday.

The already uneasy relations between Washington and Tehran have plummeted since May, when US President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from the 2015 nuclear deal negotiated by his predecessor, Barack Obama. Though European powers, Russia and China have not repudiated the deal, the US has already reimposed some of the sanctions that were suspended and is threatening to punish anyone doing business with Iran.

Tehran has responded by unveiling new homemade weapons, including a fighter jet and a short-range ballistic missile, as well as conducting naval drills with small boats in the Strait of Hormuz.

Earlier this month, Obama’s former national security adviser General James Jones described Iran as an “existential threat” to the region, in an interview with the Abu Dhabi newspaper The National.

“I personally would like to see, if they ever did something in the Strait of Hormuz, I would like to see their navy disappear,” said Jones, who now serves as the interim chairman of the Atlantic Council think tank.

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