An oil tanker belonging to the United Arab Emirates has gone missing while sailing through the Strait of Hormuz, prompting fears it has been seized by Iran.
The Riah tanker was last tracked in the Strait around 11pm on Saturday when it suddenly slowed down and turned to face Iran, before it stopped transmitting data.
US security officials say the crew have failed to make contact ever since and are increasingly convinced the vessel was intercepted by Revolutionary Guards forces.
It comes after Iran tried and failed to stop a British tanker in the Strait, which it had threatened to seize after one of its own vessels was stopped near Gibraltar.
UAE-owned oil tanker Riah was last tracked in the Strait of Hormuz around 11pm Saturday before it suddenly slowed down, turned to face Iran, then stopped transmitting its location.
There are fears the vessel has been seized by Iran because it deviated outside shipping lanes (pictured in pink) and then headed towards Iran’s Qeshm Island before disappearing.
More broadly, Iran has been threatening to disrupt shipping through the strait in order to pressure the US to abide by a nuclear deal signed in 2015.
The deal guaranteed Iran economic benefits in return for curtailing its nuclear programme, but the Trump administration walked away from it last year and reimposed crippling sanctions on the regime.
Several tankers owned by American allies – which includes the UAE – were damaged in the Strait of Hormuz in May and June this year, in attacks that the US has blamed on Iran.
Recently, Iran has inched its uranium production and enrichment over the limits of its 2015 nuclear deal, trying to put more pressure on Europe to offer it better terms and allow it to sell its crude oil abroad.
However, those tensions also have seen the U.S. send thousands of additional troops, nuclear-capable B-52 bombers and advanced fighter jets into the Mideast.
Mysterious attacks on oil tankers and Iran shooting down a U.S. military surveillance drone has added to the fears of an armed conflict breaking out.
The Riah, a 58-meter (190-foot) oil tanker, typically made trips from Dubai and Sharjah on the UAE’s west coast before going through the strait and heading to Fujairah on the UAE’s east coast.
However, something happened to the vessel after 11 pm on Saturday, according to tracking data.
Capt. Ranjith Raja of the data firm Refinitiv told The Associated Press on Tuesday that the tanker hadn’t switched off its tracking in three months of trips around the UAE.
‘That is a red flag,’ Raja said.
Iranian officials have not said anything publicly about the ship, nor have officials in the UAE. The U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet, which oversees Mideast waters, declined to immediately comment.
However, CNN’s Barbara Starr said officials are increasingly convinced that Iran is behind the disappearance.
The ship’s registered owner, Dubai-based Prime Tankers LLC, told the AP it had sold the ship to another company called Mouj Al-Bahar.
A man who answered a telephone number registered to the firm told the AP it didn’t own any ships.
Separately, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said Tuesday his country will retaliate over the seizure of an Iranian supertanker carrying 2.1 million barrels of light crude oil.
The vessel was seized with the help of British Royal Marines earlier this month off Gibraltar.
Khamenei called the seizure of the ship ‘piracy’ in a televised speech Tuesday.
‘God willing, the Islamic Republic and its committed forces will not leave this evil without a response,’ he said.
He stopped short of saying how and when the response would come, adding only that it would be ‘at the right time’.
British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said Saturday that Britain will facilitate the release the ship if Iran can provide guarantees the vessel will not breach European sanctions on oil shipments to Syria.
Source » daily mail