After the theft of Iranian oil by the United States last year, St Nikolas tanker was seized by Iran’s Navy this morning with a judicial order … it is en route to Iranian ports.Iranian semi-official Fars news agency reported Thursday, saying the Iranian Navy seized an oil tanker that held Iraqi crude oil. Iranian state media says the seizure is retaliation for when the U.S. confiscated Iranian oil from the vessel last year in a sanctions enforcement operation.
Why It Matters: Iran state media reported that the country’s Navy seized an oil tanker – originally headed from Iraq to Turkey with “a crew of 18 Filipinos and one Greek national” – off the coast of Oman (The Associated Press). The seizure occurred as tensions increase in the Middle East – for example, Iranian-backed Houthi militia has increasingly targeted shipping routes in the Red Sea in support of Hamas amid its war with Israel. The oil tanker’s operator – Greek shipping company Empire Navigation – reported loosing contact with the vessel, and told The AP, “Empire have no such knowledge of a court order or the Iranian navy having seized their vessel, and have still not been contacted by anyone.”
Authorities are currently investigating the incident, according to the United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations authority “which provides maritime security information …” (Reuters).
Background: The U.S. seized Iranian oil from this specific oil tanker last year to enforce sanctions on Iran. Reuters explains, “the United States said at the time that Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) had been trying to send contraband Iranian oil to China, in violation of U.S. sanctions.” The current seizing of the oil tanker by Iran – a U.S.-designated state sponsor of terrorism – increases tensions in the region.
In a press briefing on Thursday, U.S. Pentagon Press Secretary Air Force Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder confirmed the news: “… today the Islamic Republic of Iran Navy unlawfully seized the Marshall Islands flagged oil Tanker St. Nickolas while the vessel was transiting the international waterways of the Gulf of Oman. As we understand it, this oil tanker was en route to Turkey when the Islamic Republic of Iran Navy forces boarded and seized control of the vessel. They subsequently forced the tanker to change course toward Iranian territorial waters and the status of the crew is unknown at this time. Clearly this activity is contrary to international law. It’s another example of Iranian malign activity threatening security and stability in the region and we call on Iran to release the tanker and the crew immediately.”
by Emily Hooker, based in Texas