Iran Says It Seized Iraqi Oil Tanker in Gulf, Arrested Seven Sailors

Last month, Iran seized a British tanker in the Strait of Hormuz for alleged marine violations and allowed a second one to proceed after issuing a warning

A speedboat of the Iran's Revolutionary Guards moves around a British-flagged oil tanker Stena Impero which was seized in the Strait of Hormuz on July 21, 2019
Morteza Akhoondi,AP

Iran's Revolutionary Guards Corps has seized an Iraqi oil tanker in the Gulf that was smuggling fuel to some Arab states, Iran's state TV reported, adding that seven sailors onboard of the tanker had been detained.

This is the third such seizure of a vessel in recent weeks. 

The vessel was intercepted near Iran's Farsi Island in the Gulf, Iran's semi-official Fars news agency said. Lebanon's al-Mayadeen TV station reported that it was seized on Wednesday. 

"The IRGC's naval forces have seized a foreign oil tanker in the Persian Gulf," TV quoted IRGC commander Ramezan Zirahi as saying.

"It carried 700,000 liters of fuel. Seven sailors onboard of the tanker, who are from different nationalities, were detained," he added.

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"This foreign vessel had received the fuel from other ships and was transferring it to Persian Gulf Arab states," Fars quoted Gen. Ramazan Zirahi, a Guard commander, as saying. He added that "the seizure of the oil tanker was in coordination with Iran's judiciary authorities and based on their order." 

Iraq's Ministry of Oil denied on Sunday accusations that the tanker was smuggling fuel, state news reported. 

Tensions have risen between Iran and the West since last year when the United States pulled out of an international agreement which curbed the Islamic Republic's nuclear program in return for an easing of economic sanctions on Iran. 

In July, British forces seized an Iranian oil tanker near Gibraltar, accused it of violating sanctions on Syria. 

Then Iran seized a British tanker in the Strait of Hormuz for alleged marine violations. It allowed a second one to proceed after issuing a warning. 

Describing the seizure of the Stena Impero in the Strait of Hormuz as illegal, Britain has rejected the idea that it could release the Iranian tanker in exchange for the British-flagged vessel seized by the IRGC.

Fears of a Middle East war with global repercussions have risen since Trump withdrew from the nuclear deal and revived a panoply of sanctions meant to push Tehran into wider security concessions. 

Iran has retaliated by resuming uranium enrichment seen in the West as a potential conduit to developing an atom bomb. But it faces severe economic damage under intensified U.S. sanctions designed to strangle its vital oil trade. 

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After several attacks in May and June on oil tankers - blamed by Washington on Tehran, which denied responsibility - Trump has been trying to forge a military coalition to secure Gulf waters, though European allies have been loath to join for fear of provoking open conflict. 

European parties to the deal - Britain, France and Germany - have instead appealed for diplomatic moves to defuse the crisis and have been trying to salvage the pact by exploring ways to shield Iran's economy from U.S. sanctions. 

Tehran has called on them to accelerate their efforts or it will further decrease its commitments to the agreement.

Britain said on July 25 that it had started sending a warship to accompany all British-flagged vessels through the Strait of Hormuz. 

In a reportedly unrelated incident, an Iranian fighter jet crashed in Tangestan county, in the Bushehr province, on Sunday. Two pilots onboard managed to eject and land safely. The accident was due to a technical malfunction, the Tehran-based Mehr Agency said. 

Bushehr province is on the Persian Gulf coast, and home to one of Iran's nuclear power stations