Iran capture of US-bound oil tanker may have been retaliation, official says
Stars and Stripes April 28, 2023
The United States recently redirected a tanker attempting to ship Iranian crude oil to China, an action that likely triggered Tehran’s seizure this week of an oil tanker in the Gulf of Oman, U.S. officials say.
Iran may have retaliated as part of a well-established pattern of behavior when the U.S. or other countries enforce economic sanctions leveled against them, a U.S. official familiar with the matter, who was not authorized to speak on the record, told Stars and Stripes on Friday.
A tanker carrying oil to China was redirected toward the United States, the British newspaper Financial Times reported Friday, citing three unnamed U.S. officials.
Iran’s seizure on Thursday of the Marshall Islands-flagged oil tanker Advantage Sweet followed the DOJ action.
The DOJ did not respond Friday to a Stars and Stripes request for comment.
Advantage Sweet was traveling in international waters Thursday when it issued a distress call, U.S. Naval Forces Central Command/U.S. 5th Fleet said in a statement the same day.
The Navy called for the ship to be released, saying the action was unjustified and a further example of Iran’s destabilizing activity at sea.
Advantage Tankers, which lists the MT Advantage Sweet as one of its 18 oil tankers, said in an email Friday night that their ship is being held at the Port of Bandar Abbas on the southern coast of Iran.
The fully laden oil tanker was sailing from Kuwait to Houston, Texas, with 24 crew on board with 23 from India and one from Russia, the statement said.
Iran said its navy intercepted the tanker as it fled after colliding with a fishing vessel, injuring two crew members, the Iranian state news agency IRNA reported.
The ship was directed toward Iran’s coastal waters, according to the IRNA report, which cited the Iranian army.
But the company operating the ship had no knowledge of any collision, Mark Clark, director at a crisis response company representing Advantage Tankers, said Friday.
The Iranian government has not yet contacted the company, Clark said, adding the Indian and Russian embassies have been contacted regarding their citizens.
Over the past two years, Iran has unlawfully seized at least five commercial ships in the Middle East, the Navy said in a statement.
Those ships include two Greek-flagged oil tankers and a British-flagged vessel, each of which were held for several months, according to the Navy. The Greek ships, seized in May, were released in November.
"Iran's continued harassment of vessels and interference with navigational rights in regional waters are a threat to maritime security and the global economy," U.S. 5th Fleet said in the statement.
Iran and the U.S. have accused each other of being a destabilizing force in the Middle East, which analysts say is locked in a shadow war between Tehran and Washington.
In recent months, the U.S. Navy has seized thousands of rifles, ammunition, rockets and other military equipment at sea that it says were shipped from Iran for use by rebels in Yemen.
The U.S. also has accused Iranian companies of involvement in the delivery of aerial drones to Russia, which Moscow has used in attacks against civilian infrastructure in Ukraine.
Politicians in Tehran, meanwhile, have blamed the U.S. for the spread of popular protests across Iran over the last year.
The Advantage Sweet seizure came on the same day that Washington announced sanctions on four officials from Tehran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and accused them of helping wrongfully detain Americans in Iran.