Iran seizes Panamanian-flagged oil tanker in Strait of Hormuz

Iran seizes Panamanian-flagged oil tanker in Strait of Hormuz

Iran’s Revolutionary Guard has seized a Panamanian-flagged oil tanker in the Strait of Hormuz, the strategic waterway through which a fifth of all crude oil passes. The seizure of the Niovi marks the second such capture by Tehran in less than a week and has renewed concerns over Iran’s threat to maritime traffic in the region.

The United States Navy published surveillance footage on Wednesday of about a dozen Iranian Guard vessels surrounding the tanker and forcing it to reverse course and head towards Iranian territorial waters off the coast of Bandar Abbas. The drone had been on a routine patrol in the area and saw the seizure, though the Navy did not receive a distress call from the Niovi itself, according to 5th Fleet spokesman Cmdr. Timothy Hawkins.

“Iran’s actions are contrary to international law and disruptive to regional security and stability,” said the 5th Fleet in a statement. “Iran’s continued harassment of vessels and interference with navigational rights in regional waters are unwarranted, irresponsible, and a present threat to maritime security and the global economy.”

Iran acknowledged the seizure, with the judiciary’s Mizan news agency quoting the Tehran prosecutor’s office as saying that a judge ordered it impounded over an unspecified complaint. Shipping registries show the Niovi as managed by Smart Tankers of Piraeus, Greece. A woman who answered the phone at the firm declined to immediately comment on the seizure.

The Niovi had been coming from dry-dock repairs in Dubai and was bound for Fujairah on the eastern coast of the United Arab Emirates without carrying any cargo, according to data from the firm Refinitiv. The seizure of the Niovi comes amid the disappearance of a crude oil tanker in southeast Asia, believed to be carrying Iranian crude oil amid reports that it may have been seized by the United States.

Last week, Iran seized an oil tanker carrying crude for Chevron Corp. of San Ramon, California, amid wider tensions between Tehran and the U.S. over its nuclear program. The Advantage Sweet had 23 Indians and one Russian on board.

Iran has accused the Advantage Sweet of colliding with another vessel, while offering no evidence to support its claim. Iran has offered a variety of unsupported claims in the past when seizing foreign-flagged ships amid tensions with the West.

The taking of the two tankers in under a week comes amid the disappearance of the Marshall Island-flagged Suez Rajan, which had been in the South China Sea off Singapore for over a year after a report alleged it was smuggling sanctioned Iranian crude oil. Tracking data for the Suez Rajan last showed it off East Africa, moving in a direction that could take it to the Americas.

The Financial Times, as well as the maritime intelligence firm Ambrey, have reported that the Suez Rajan was seized on the order of American authorities. However, the ship’s manager has not responded to queries from The Associated Press about the status of the ship. U.S. officials also have not commented.

The seizure by Iran of two ships in the last week was the latest in a string of ship seizures and explosions to roil the region. The incidents began after then-President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew the U.S. from Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers, which saw Tehran drastically limit its enrichment of uranium. The move, which was met with international criticism, led to the reimposition of crippling sanctions on Iran by the U.S., severely damaging its economy.