Jon Gambrell / AP
Iran says its Islamic revolutionary guards Corps Navy have taken a foreign oil tanker in the Persian Gulf and claimed that the ship smuggled 1 million liters (264,000 gallons) of fuel. Iranian state news reports that the ship had a crew of 12 on board.
The vessel was seized south of Larak Island in the Hormuz section, according to the state IRNA news agency. The island sits less than 20 miles outside the Iranian mainland, south of Bandar Abbas.
As a quote from Iran's semi-Finnish father's news outlet, the Iranian military said in a statement on Thursday that the tanker was on its way "delivering the smuggled fuel received from Iranian dhows to foreign ships in longer areas but failed due to IRGC's naval forces . "
Without specifying tankers, the military says it has a load capacity of 2 million liters – making it a small ship compared to supertankers who can carry 2 million barrels of oil.
The military board's statement does not describe the crew's condition or whereabouts and only states that Iranian authorities are studying the matter. It also added that the Revolutionary Guard Corps "denied claiming that it has seized any other alien ship that foreign media claimed in recent days."
The ship was taken on Sunday, Iran says. While not mentioning the ship, US media and maritime news sites have identified it as MT Riah, a small Panama-flagged tanker that disappeared in the Strait of Hormones around midnight Saturday, according to ship tracking data. According to the Vesseltracker website, the tanker has been missing, because it "shut down its AIS" – its automatic identification system transponders.
News about the sea fence comes one day after another semi-public Iranian news site, ISNA, quoted an Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman saying that Iran had "rescued" a foreign oil tanker in the Persian Gulf and took it to land for repairs.
In recent months, Riah often traveled between ports in the United Arab Emirates. As the Associated Press reported, "An Emirates official had told the AP, the little oil tanker did not make any emergency calls before he shut down his tram."
The seizure adds another layer of complexity to Iran's standoff with the US – and its insistence that the European countries that signed a nuclear agreement in 2015 keep their promise to ease economic sanctions, despite US repeal from the pact.
Hormuzestream is the world's most important strategic nuisance point for oil transportation, according to the US Energy Information Administration. The agency says that last year, the line was 21% of the world's crude oil and other petroleum products.
Over the past few weeks, oil tankers have been targets for attacks, tensions and interdictions.
A week ago, a British naval force helped seize an Iranian tanker in the Strait of Gibraltar, considering that it was alleged to carry oil from Iran to Syria – a violation of European sanctions.
In retaliation for the forfeiture, a former revolutionary guardian said, Iran would seize a British oil tanker. And last week, it seemed that Iran's fleets were trying to do just what the US Department of Defense announced it had filed an attempt by three Iranian ships to divert a British oil tanker. Iran denied being involved.
That back and forth followed a claim last month by the United States, which accused Iran of attacking two tankers in Omanholmen with magnetic mines.