Masked Iranian navy commandos conducted a helicopter-borne operation to seize a US-bound oil tanker in the Gulf of Oman, footage broadcast on Iranian state television showed on Friday.
Thursday’s capture of the Turkish-operated, Chinese-owned Advantage Suite represents Iran’s latest seizure amid tensions with the United States over its advancing nuclear program. Although Tehran says the tanker was seized after it ran into another Iranian vessel, it has yet to provide any evidence to back up the claim – and the Islamic Republic has taken the other vessels as bargaining chips in talks with the West.
The footage showed commandos descending from the helicopter to the deck of the Advantage suite using ropes. One picture shows a commando with his fist in the air after apparently taking the ship.
“The Advantage Suite was intercepted by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy while in transit in international waters in the Gulf of Oman,” US Naval Forces Central Command said in a statement Thursday. “Iran’s actions are contrary to international law and detrimental to regional security and stability. The Iranian government should release the oil tanker immediately.”
The US Navy’s 5th Fleet said the Iranian seizure was at least Tehran’s fifth commercial vessel in the past two years.
“Continued harassment of Iranian ships and interference with navigational rights in territorial waters is a threat to maritime security and the global economy,” it added.
Iran claimed the tanker collided with one of its vessels, leaving two Iranian crew members missing and several injured.
The ship’s manager, Advantage Tankers, a Turkish firm, issued a statement acknowledging that the Advantage Suite was being “towed to a port by the Iranian Navy based on international disputes.” All 24 crew members of the ship are Indians.
“The safety and welfare of our valued crew members is our No. 1 priority,” the firm said “Similar experience shows that crew members of vessels taken in such circumstances are in no danger.”
The vessel had picked up oil from Kuwait and was chartered by Chevron Corp., an Advantage Tankers spokeswoman said. It was bound for Houston, Texas, according to the MarineTraffic tracking website.
Thursday’s seizure is the latest incident in the sensitive waters of the Gulf, which carries about a third of the world’s seaborne oil.
Such incidents have become more frequent since 2018, when the United States withdrew from a landmark nuclear deal between Iran and major powers and reimposed crippling sanctions. Marathon efforts to restore the deal have stalled.
The latest seizure comes just days after Western governments Sanctions on Iran’s Revolutionary Guards have tightened.
Last December, an Iranian patrol boat alleged “attempted to blind” two US ships which were conducting a “routine transit in international waters”. The incident occurred in the Strait of Hormuz, an important chokepoint that connects the Persian Gulf with the Gulf of Oman and the Arabian Sea. It is considered the world’s most important oil transit route, since about one-fifth of the world’s oil supplies travel through the strait every day.
AFP contributed to this report.
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