Iran has seized a foreign tanker smuggling fuel in the Gulf, state television quoted Iran’s Revolutionary Guards as saying on Thursday. The report added that the oil tanker had 12 foreign crew members on board and was involved in smuggling around one million litres of fuel from Iranian smugglers to foreign customers.
“A foreign vessel smuggling one million litres of fuel in the Lark Island of the Persian Gulf has been seized,” the station said, adding that the ship was seized on Sunday.
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 ownership of the vessel.
The 58 metre (190ft) oil tanker typically made trips from Dubai and Sharjah on the UAE’s west coast before going through the strait and heading towards Fujairah on the UAE’s east coast.
The seizure comes as tensions mount between the US and Iran over the unravelling nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers, and days after an oil tanker based in the United Arab Emirates disappeared off trackers in Iranian national waters.
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.
Earlier this week, a US defence official said that America “has suspicions” that Iran seized the oil tanker when it turned off its tracker in the Strait of Hormuz, the Associated Press reported.
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.
An Emirati official said the small oil tanker made no distress call before switching off its tracker.
The U.S. has sent thousands of additional troops, nuclear-capable B-52 bombers and advanced fighter jets into the Mideast amid the heightened tensions.