US-sought tanker ‘hijacked’ off UAE now in Iran: UN

Updated 20 Jul 2020

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The International Labour Organisation said that the MT Gulf Sky was hijacked on July 5, citing its captain. — AFP/File
The International Labour Organisation said that the MT Gulf Sky was hijacked on July 5, citing its captain. — AFP/File

DUBAI: A United Nations agency acknowledged on Sunday that a US-sought oil tanker hijacked off the coast of the United Arab Emirates after allegedly smuggling Iranian crude oil is back in Iranian waters.

The International Labour Organisation said that the MT Gulf Sky was hijacked on July 5, citing its captain. The vessel was taken to Iran, the ILO said.

It said that all 28 Indian crew members disembarked in Iran and all but two of the crew without passports flew from Tehran to India on July 15.

The ILO cited the International Seafarers Welfare and Assistance Network for its information. The ILO earlier filed a report saying the vessel and its sailors had been abandoned by its owners without pay since March off Khorfakkan, a city on the eastern coast of the United Arab Emirates.

Iranian state media and officials have not acknowledged the hijacking and arrival of the MT Gulf Sky to Iran. The US government similarly has not commented.

In May, the US Justice Department filed criminal charges against two Iranians, accusing them of trying to launder some $12 million to purchase the tanker, then named the MT Nautica, through a series of front companies.

Court documents allege the smuggling scheme involved the Quds Force of Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard, which is its elite expeditionary unit, as well as Iran’s national oil and tanker companies. The two men charged, one of whom also has an Iraqi passport, remain at large.

A US bank froze funds associated with the sale, causing the seller to launch a lawsuit in the UAE to repossess the vessel, the Justice Department earlier said. That civil action was believed to still be pending, raising questions of how the tanker sailed away from the Emirates after being seized by authorities there.

As tensions between Iran and the US heated up last year, tankers plying the waters of the Mideast became targets, particularly near the crucial Strait of Hormuz, the Persian Gulfs narrow mouth through which 20pc of all oil passes. Suspected limpet mine attacks the US blamed on Iran targeted several tankers. Iran denied being involved, though it did seize several tankers.

Published in Dawn, July 20th, 2020