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12 Jan, 2024 07:09

Iran confirms ‘retaliatory’ oil tanker seizure

The St. Nikolas was transporting crude from Iraq to Turkey when it was boarded
Iran confirms ‘retaliatory’ oil tanker seizure

An oil tanker has been boarded and seized by Iranian forces in Gulf of Oman, Tehran’s Navy confirmed on Thursday.

The St Nikolas – a Greek-owned vessel bearing the Marshall Islands flag – was taken in retaliation for last year’s incident in which the US captured a cargo of Iranian oil from the same ship, according to Iran’s Navy.

The “seizure took place on a court order,” the Navy reported, as the “Suez Rajan tanker had earlier stolen an Iranian oil cargo and handed it over to the US.”

Under the name Suez Rajan, the vessel was in the spotlight of a legal battle last year, after the watchdog organization United Against Nuclear Iran reported that it was transporting Iranian oil to China in violation of US sanctions.

The US seized the vessel, and in the following court case, the charterers of the vessel pleaded guilty and received fines. The tanker ultimately cooperated with the US and sailed to Houston, where nearly a million barrels of Iranian oil were confiscated. Iran then pledged to retaliate.

The St. Nikolas sailed under the name Suez Rajan until September of last year, and was carrying a cargo of crude oil from Iraq to Turkey when it was boarded by Iranian forces early on Thursday.

In a press briefing later in the day, White House national security spokesman John Kirby commented on the event, stating that the US authorities “condemn this apparent seizure.” He demanded that the Iranian government “immediately release the ship and its crew,” calling Iran’s actions “provocative and unacceptable.”

The move comes at a tense time for the region, with both the Iranian and US navies sending warships into the area. Iran’s Alborz destroyer was deployed to the Red Sea in early January due to “heightening tensions,” according to Iranian state news IRNA. The US Navy sent warships to the area after attacks on shipping by Yemeni Houthi rebels, who have vowed to attack any vessel they see as “Israel-linked” until Israel ends its bombardment of Gaza.

Multiple US Navy destroyers, along with warships from other nations, have operated near the Suez Canal shipping routes since December 19 as part of Operation Prosperity Guardian. Several have already come under attack from Houthi drones and missiles, while Houthi boats have been struck in retaliation over the past two months.