Iran 'Seizes UAE Vessel' Amid Saudi Oil Attack Standoff

Earlier on Monday, Iran said there would be no meeting between Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and his U.S. counterpart Donald Trump at the United Nations

File photo: Oil tankers pass through the Strait of Hormuz, December 21, 2018.
\ Hamad I Mohammed/ REUTERS

Iran's Revolutionary Guards have seized a vessel in the Gulf for allegedly smuggling 250,000 litres of diesel fuel to the United Arab Emirates, Iran's semi-official Students News agency ISNA reported on Monday.

"It was detained near Iran's Greater Tunb island in the Persian Gulf...the crew have been handed over to legal authorities in the southern Hormozgan province," ISNA said, without elaborating on the nationalities of the crewmen.

Earlier on Monday, Iran said there would be no meeting between Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and his U.S. counterpart Donald Trump at the United Nations, Iranian state television reported, after the White House on Sunday left open the possibility of a potential meeting.

"Neither is such an event (Trump-Rouhani meeting in New York) on our agenda, nor will it happen. Such a meeting will not take place," Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said in remarks carried by state TV. 

Mousavi rejected as "nonsense" remarks by Republican U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham that it was time for the United States "to put on the table an attack on Iranian oil refineries" after the attacks on Saudi oil installations on Saturday that were claimed by Yemen's Iran-aligned Houthis.

>> Washington may be ready for talks post-Bolton, but Iran is still hesitant | Analysis ■ Attack on Saudi oil infrastructure 'serious escalation' in proxy war with Iran | Explained

The reported seizure coincided with raised international tensions following a weekend attack on a major oil installation in Saudi Arabia, Tehran's longtime regional foe.

Responsibility for the strike was claimed by Yemen's Iran-aligned Houthi movement, while the United States has blamed Iran itself for the strike. Iran denies the accusation.

Trump said on Sunday that the United States was "locked and loaded" for a potential response to the attack on Saudi Arabia's oil facilities, after a senior official in his administration said Iran was to blame.

Iran, which has some of the world's cheapest fuel prices due to heavy subsidies and the fall of its national currency, has been fighting rampant fuel smuggling by land to neighbouring countries and by sea to Gulf Arab states.

Iran stepped up its fight against smuggling fuel earlier this month when its coast guards seized a vessel for smuggling fuel in the Gulf and detained its 12 Filipino crew members.

In July, Iran seized a British oil tanker near the Strait of Hormuz for alleged marine violations, two weeks after British forces detained an Iranian tanker near Gibraltar accused of taking oil to Syria in violation of European Union sanctions.

Iran's Adrian Darya 1, formerly Grace 1, was released last month. Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said on Monday that the British-flagged Steno Impero oil tanker will be released soon.

The latest reported ship seizure by Iran follows a series of incidents involving shipping in and near the Gulf after U.S. sanctions on Iranian oil exports took full effect in May.

The incidents coincided with stepped up attacks by the Houthis on targets in Saudi Arabia. The Houthis said on Monday that Saudi Aramco's oil processing plants were still a target and could be attacked at "any moment," warning foreigners to leave the area.

"There is reason to believe that we know the culprit, are locked and loaded depending on verification, but are waiting to hear from the Kingdom as to who they believe was the cause of this attack, and under what terms we would proceed!" Trump said on Twitter.