BANDAR ABBAS : Iran seized a tanker with Iraqi crude destined for Turkey on Thursday in what appeared to be a retaliation for the seizure last year of the same vessel by Tehran’s arch foe the United States, Iranian media reported.
The Marshall Islands-flagged tanker St Nikolas, which last year was confiscated by the United States for carrying Iranian oil, was boarded by armed intruders as it sailed close to the Omani city of Sohar, according to British maritime security firm Ambrey, and its AIS tracking system was turned off as it headed in the direction of the Iranian port of Bandar-e-Jask.
“The Navy of Iran’s Army has announced the seizure of an American oil tanker in the Gulf of Oman with a judicial order,” Iranian state media cited a statement by the Army as saying on Thursday. It was unclear why Iranian media described the ship as an American vessel.
In 2023, the St Nikolas was seized by the United States in a sanctions enforcement operation when it sailed under a different name, Suez Rajan. The United States said at the time that Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) had been trying to send contraband Iranian oil to China, in violation of US sanctions.
The ship loaded 145,000 metric tonnes of oil in the Iraqi port of Basra and was heading to Aliaga in western Turkey via the Suez Canal, its operator Empire Navigation told Reuters, adding that it had lost contact with the vessel.
While Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthis have since October attacked commercial vessels in the Red Sea to show support for Hamas Islamists battling the Israeli offensive in Gaza, those incidents have been concentrated on the Bab al-Mandab Strait, to the southwest of the Arabian Peninsula. Thursday’s incident is located closer to the Strait of Hormuz, between Oman and Iran.
The vessel is manned by a crew of 19 including 18 Filipino nationals and one Greek national, the operator said, adding it was chartered by Turkish oil refiner Tupras.
The United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) Authority said earlier on Thursday it had received a report that a vessel located around 50 nautical miles east of Oman’s coast was boarded by four to five armed persons. The armed intruders were reported to be wearing military-style black uniforms and black masks. UKMTO said the chief security officer reported the vessel had altered course towards Iranian territorial waters and that communication with the tanker had been lost.
The UK authority, which provides maritime security information, said it was unable to make further contact with the vessel and authorities were still investigating the incident.
The United States Navy’s Fifth Fleet did not immediately respond to a request for comment or further information.
The Suez Rajan was carrying more than 980,000 barrels of Iranian crude oil last year when it was seized and the oil confiscated in the U.S. sanctions enforcement operation.
It was unable to unload the Iranian crude for nearly two and half months over fears of secondary sanctions on vessels used to unload it. It was renamed the St Nikolas after unloading the cargoes.