Iran says it seized ship for smuggling, stoking tensions

7/18/2019

TEHRAN - Iran said it seized a foreign ship that was smuggling fuel in the Persian Gulf, an act that threatens to heighten already tense relations in the world’s biggest oil-exporting region.

The description of the vessel looks similar to that of a tanker that disappeared from global satellite tracking systems four days ago.

Patrolling forces stopped the carrier on July 14 south of Larak island, close to the Strait of Hormuz, the shipping chokepoint at the mouth of the Gulf, according to state-run Tasnim news agency. The ship was smuggling 1 million liters of fuel out of Iran, intending to load the cargo on to foreign vessels, the state-run Iranian Students News Agency reported, citing a statement from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps.

The seizure follows threats Iran has made in the past few weeks after British Royal Marines helped authorities in Gibraltar impound a supertanker as it carried Iranian crude in the Mediterranean Sea seemingly bound for Syria. About one third of the world’s seaborne oil passed through the Strait of Hormuz last year, highlighting its key role in global oil markets.

Iran has been blamed for attacks on merchant shipping in recent months but has denied responsibility.

Brent crude gave up gains after rising as much as 1.3% and was 8 cents lower at $63.58 a bbl at 2:35 p.m. in London. The benchmark futures contract has increased 18% this year, partly due to worsening friction between Iran and its regional rival Saudi Arabia.

The ship, which Iranian forces seized four days ago, had 12 foreigners on board and a 2 million-liter capacity, ISNA reported. Iran’s state National Iranian Tanker Co. didn’t immediately reply to a request for comment.

The U.S. 5th Fleet is aware of the reports that Iran had seized a tanker and had no immediate comment on the matter, according to the military’s Bahrain-based public affairs office. U.S. Central Command’s media office in Florida said it was aware of the latest reports and trying to learn more.

The Riah, which went missing on July 14, has a capacity 1,899 deadweight tons, according to Equasis, an international shipping database. That would give it a transportation capacity of roughly 2 million liters -- about the same as the ship Iran says it has seized.

That’s a fraction of the nearly 160,000-ton capacity of the British Heritage, the U.K.-flagged oil tanker harassed by Iranian ships last week while exiting the Gulf.

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