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Iran Seizes Oil Tanker Near Oman Amidst Dispute with the US

In a recent development, Iran has reportedly seized an oil tanker carrying Iraqi crude bound for Turkey, citing retaliation for a similar incident last year when the United States confiscated the same vessel and its oil.

Iranian state media, including the IRNA news agency, reported that the Navy of the Islamic Republic of Iran carried out the seizure in the Gulf of Oman based on a court order.

The IRNA news agency quoted the Iranian Navy, stating, “After the theft of Iranian oil by the United States last year, the St Nikolas tanker was seized by Iran’s Navy.” The United States has condemned the action, labeling it an “unlawful seizure” and demanding the immediate release of the ship and its crew.

The incident follows a series of attacks by Yemen’s Iranian-aligned Houthis on vessels in the Red Sea. The Houthis claim these attacks are in solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza during Israel’s assault on the territory. The heightened tensions increase the risk of potential retaliatory strikes by US-led forces patrolling the region, particularly after a recent UN Security Council vote condemning the Houthis.

While the Houthis have primarily focused on the Bab al-Mandab Strait southwest of the Arabian Peninsula, this incident occurred closer to the Strait of Hormuz, situated between Oman and Iran. According to reports from maritime security firm Ambrey, the seizure began around 7:30 am (03:30 GMT) when armed individuals boarded the Marshall Islands-flagged St Nikolas, approximately 50 nautical miles east of Sohar in Oman, and headed towards Bandar-e-Jask in Iran.

TankerTrackers.com, which monitors global crude oil shipments, revealed that the tanker was transporting “Iraqi oil” and had previously been known as the Suez Rajan. Ambrey noted that the renamed tanker had previously faced legal action and fines for transporting sanctioned Iranian oil, leading to the confiscation of one million barrels by US authorities.

The vessel, sailing from the Iraqi port of Basra to Turkey, had a crew of 19, including 18 Filipino nationals and one Greek national. Turkish oil refiner Tupras had chartered the ship. The incident occurred in the waters between Oman and Iran, as reported by the United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO), which received a report of “unknown voices over the phone” from the ship’s security manager alongside the ship’s captain.

The St Nikolas incident adds to the ongoing tensions in the Gulf of Oman, a crucial route for the oil industry that has witnessed numerous hijackings and attacks over the years, often involving Iran. Since the collapse of the Iran nuclear deal, there have been several tense encounters between Iran and the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet, responsible for patrolling the Middle East in the waterway.

Additionally, since 2019, the US and its allies have been seizing Iranian oil cargoes, leading to a series of attributed attacks in the Middle East and ship seizures by Iranian military and paramilitary forces, posing a threat to global shipping.

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