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Iran Guards seize ‘foreign tanker’ accused of smuggling fuel

Updated July 19, 2019

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An image grab taken from a video released by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards on Thursday, reportedly shows the Panamanian-flagged tanker Riah. — AFP
An image grab taken from a video released by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards on Thursday, reportedly shows the Panamanian-flagged tanker Riah. — AFP

TEHRAN: Iran’s Revolutionary Guards said on Thursday they had detained a “foreign tanker” and its 12 crew for allegedly smuggling fuel, the latest incident in a tense standoff in the Gulf.

The announcement came after Tehran said it had come to the aid of a foreign tanker after receiving a distress call, but made no mention of the vessel being seized.

The Guards did not confirm whether the vessel they had detained on Sunday in the highly sensitive Strait of Hormuz was the same ship as that mentioned on Tuesday by the foreign ministry.

“With a capacity of two million barrels and 12 foreign crew on board, the vessel was en route to deliver contraband fuel received from Iranian boats to foreign ships in farther regions when it was intercepted,” the force’s Sepahnews website said.

The ship was seized south of the Iranian island of Larak, the Guards said, without detailing its name or provenance.

On Thursday, Iranian television broadcast footage appearing to show patrol boats of a kind used by the Guards, circling a tanker marked “Riah” and “Panama”.

The video also included shots apparently taken from onboard the tanker.

Oil shipping monitor TankerTrackers reported that the Panamanian-flagged tanker Riah, used in the Strait of Hormuz “for fuelling other vessels”, had crossed into Iranian waters on Sunday.

It said the tanker’s automatic identification system had then stopped sending signals.

Officials have said Iran had come to the rescue of an ailing tanker on Sunday.

“Iranian forces approached it and using a tugboat brought it into Iranian waters for necessary repairs,” foreign ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said.

The incident is the latest of a series of events that have raised fears of a regional conflict involving the US and its Gulf allies.

Tanker tensions

US Central Command chief Kenneth McKenzie pledged on Thursday to work “aggressively” to ensure freedom of navigation in the highly sensitive Gulf waters, a conduit for much of the world’s crude oil.

“We are going to work very aggressively with our partners ... to come to a solution that will enable the free passage of critical oil and other commodities ... through the region,” McKenzie told reporters at an air base in Saudi Arabia, a key US ally.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron agreed on Thursday on the need to “consolidate efforts” to save the deal, an “important factor in ensuring security in the Middle East”, the Kremlin said.

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani also urged Europe on Thursday to “accelerate” its efforts to salvage the deal during a phone call with Macron, saying “Iran is determined to keep open all options” to preserve the agreement, according to a statement on the government’s official website.

He warned Macron that “missed opportunities” would force Iran to drop further commitments under the deal, after it withdrew from some limits on its nuclear activities in May.

The United States said last week it was discussing military escorts for vessels in the Gulf after Britain claimed Iranian boats threatened one of its tankers.

Published in Dawn, July 19th, 2019