Naval forces of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) seized an oil tanker in international waters in the Gulf of Oman on Thursday, the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet said.

The IRGC seized the vessel, named Advantage Sweet, at roughly 1:15 p.m. local time, the US Navy said, adding that the ship’s crew issued a distress call during the seizure.

“Iran’s actions are contrary to international law and disruptive to regional security and stability. The Iranian government should immediately release the oil tanker,” the Fifth Fleet’s statement read.

Following the statement, Fifth Fleet spokesperson Cdr. Tim Hawkins said Iran’s navy was behind the seizure, not the IRGC, as initially stated.

Open-source tracking websites reported the Marshall Islands-flagged vessel was bound for Houston, Texas, after having departed Kuwait on Tuesday.

It was not immediately clear why Iran would seize the vessel, though it appeared to mark the latest move in recent years’ quiet contest over fuel shipments involving Iran. Iran has seized at least five commercial vessels in Middle Eastern waters over the past two years, the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet said Thursday.

“Iran’s continued harassment of vessels and interference with navigational rights in regional waters are a threat to maritime security and the global economy.”

A US official speaking to Al-Monitor on the condition of anonymity said Iran’s move was “likely related to a back and forth between Iran and the United States” involving petroleum shipment seizures “as a result of claims violations.”

The official suggested Iran’s seizure today could be related to the case of the Suez Rajan, another Marshall Islands-flagged tanker reportedly under investigation by the Department of Justice for allegedly ferrying sanctioned Iranian oil in the South China Sea.

Families of victims of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks asked the US government to seize the crude oil aboard the Suez Rajan in a federal court filing in New York last year. The Los Angeles-based company listed as owning the Suez Rajan, Oaktree Capital Management, did not immediately return Al-Monitor’s requests for comment.

That ship’s last known location was recorded off the southeastern coast of Africa last Friday, according to Marine Traffic, an open-source tracking website. Al-Monitor has reached out to the Department of Justice for comment.

Asked about the seizure of the Advantage Sweet on Thursday, a spokesperson for Iran’s mission to the UN told Al-Monitor Iran’s military was behind the move, not the IRGC Navy, and accused the US Navy of spreading “false information.”

Iran’s military said in a statement the Iranian Army-Navy destroyer Binder intercepted the vessel after it collided with an Iranian ship in the Persian Gulf, resulting in two deaths and several injuries among the Iranian crew.

The United States has accused Iran of a series of maritime attacks on commercial vessels in the Middle East, most recently a series of drone strikes on ships linked to Israeli owners.

Iranian shipments of fuel to the Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria were hit by a series of sabotage attacks reportedly carried out by Israel, reportedly with the tacit support of the Trump administration.

The contestation over fuel shipping ramped up after the Donald Trump administration withdrew from the 2015 nuclear deal with Tehran and enacted “maximum pressure” sanctions on Iran in 2018 and designated the IRGC a terrorist organization.

In the summer of 2020, with the help of allies and acting under the authority of the Justice Department, the United States seized what it said was IRGC-owned fuel from four commercial tankers bound for Venezuela.

The United States accused Iran’s navy of attempting to take back the fuel shortly after its offloading, but said its forces boarded the wrong commercial ship.

The fuel was later delivered to the port of Houston.

Source » al-monitor