IRGC seizes foreign ship in Persian Gulf

The ship had a capacity of two million liters and had 12 foreign crew members, according to Fars.

Oil tankers pass through the Strait of Hormuz (photo credit: REUTERS/HAMAD I MOHAMMED)
Oil tankers pass through the Strait of Hormuz
The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps said on Thursday that they had seized a foreign ship carrying one million liters of smuggled fuel south of Larak Island in the Persian Gulf on Sunday, according to Fars News.
The foreign ship was seized by an order of Iranian judicial authorities during an operation to monitor and control traffic in the Persian Gulf in order to detect and combat organized smuggling.
The ship had a capacity of two million liters and had 12 foreign crew members, according to Fars.
"We're seeking further information following reports of a tanker seized in the Gulf. We continue to urge the Iranian authorities to de-escalate the situation in the region," a British government spokeswoman said.
"We are continuously monitoring the security situation there and are committed to maintaining freedom of navigation, in accordance with international law."
US Central Command chief General Kenneth McKenzie said on Thursday it was talking to other countries about freedom of navigation in the Gulf and will work "aggressively" to find a solution to enable free passage.
McKenzie was taking to reporters in Riyadh in a joint news conference with General Prince Fahd bin Turki, commander of the Saudi-led coalition fighting the Iran-aligned Houthis in Yemen.
Asked if Saudi Arabia will have a role in a proposed international maritime security coalition, Prince Fahd said the kingdom has been escorting ships in the Red Sea.
"We are practicing this at Bab al-Mandeb Strait," he added.
The IRGC stated that the ship was the same one that they towed after a distress call on Sunday, according to Reuters.
On Wednesday, US officials said that they believe that the Panama flagged tanker M/I RIAH was seized by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard on Saturday night, when it was crossing the Strait of Hormuz in international waters, CNN reported. Information from the US intelligence agency indicated that the IRGC troops forced the tanker to enter Iranian territorial waters before withdrawing the vessel to Iran's Qeshm Island.
Tracking data showed that the UAE tanker drifted off into Iranian waters after 11 p.m. on Saturday and stopped transmitting its location on July 13, according to the Associated Press.
The Riah is a 58 meter (190 foot) oil tanker which usually traveled between Dubai and Sharjah on the UAE's west coast before going through the strait towards Fujairah on the UAE's east coast.
On Tuesday, a foreign ministry spokesperson announced that the UAE tanker was withdrawn to Iranian waters to receive assistance from Iranian forces after suffering from a technical issue, according to the Iranian ISNA news agency. The necessary repairs will be done to the vessel and further details will be announced later according to the spokesperson.
Sources from the UAE reported the same to the US, according to the AP.
As of Wednesday, the crew had still not contacted their base in the UAE since the boat disappeared from radar on July 13, according to Radio Farda. Abbas Mousavi, the spokesman for Iran’s Foreign Ministry, claimed that the tanker's crew had called for help following a technical problem and that Iranian forces had acted according to international regulations.
Radio Farda emphasized that the tanker disappeared from radar while sailing through the Straits of Hormuz on July 13, even though tankers usually have a backup generator or communications equipment in the case of an emergency, according to military analyst Hossein Arian.
An official from the UAE told Al Arabiya that the oil tanker is not owned or operated by the UAE and did not send a distress call.
"The tanker in question is neither UAE owned nor operated. It does not carry Emirati personnel and did not emit a distress call. We are monitoring the situation with our international partners," said the official.
The tanker had not switched off its tracking throughout three months of trips around the UAE, Capt. Ranjith Raja of the data firm Refinitiv told the AP. "That is a red flag," said Raja.
Earlier in July, British Royal Marines seized a giant Iranian oil tanker in Gibraltar for trying to take oil to Syria in violation of EU sanctions.
London said the British Heritage tanker operated by oil company BP had been approached in the strait, the main outlet for Middle Eastern oil. "HMS Montrose was forced to position herself between the Iranian vessels and British Heritage and issue verbal warnings to the Iranian vessels, which then turned away," a British government spokesman said in a statement. It urged Iran to "de-escalate the situation in the region."
Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif dismissed as "worthless" the allegation that Iran sought to block the ship.
On Saturday, British Foreign Minister Jeremy Hunt said that he had told Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif that Britain would facilitate the release of the detained Grace 1 oil tanker if there were guarantees that it would not go to Syria.
On Tuesday, Iran Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei warned that the British seizure of an Iranian oil tanker would not remain "unanswered."
"Evil Britain commits piracy and steals our ship ... and gives it a legal appearance. Iran and those who believe in our system will not leave such evil deeds unanswered," warned Khamenei on Tuesday.
In Israel, Blue and White's chairman and candidate for Prime Minister, LTG (res.) Benny Gantz responded to recent rise in tensions with Iran on Thursday saying, "As the world stands silent in the face of Iran's aggression, the regime picks up the pace.
"It is time for the world, and Europe in particular, to wake up," Gantz continued. "There are times when things must be forcefully stopped in their tracks. This is one of those times.
"The Iranians have to know that Israel can and will defend itself. The rest of the world needs to send a similar signal."
Reuters and Yvette J. Deane contributed to this report.