Iran has seized a foreign tanker suspected of carrying smuggled fuel in the Gulf, according to state media, marking the third such seizure in a month amid a spike in regional tensions.
The vessel was intercepted near Iran’s Farsi Island in the Gulf, the semi-official Fars news agency said on Sunday. The elite Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) has a navy base on Farsi Island which is located north of the Strait of Hormuz.
“The IRGC’s naval forces have seized a foreign oil tanker in the Persian Gulf that was smuggling fuel for some Arab countries,” Ramezan Zirahi, an IRGC commander, told state TV.
“It carried 700,000 litres of fuel. Seven sailors onboard of the tanker, who are from different nationalities, were detained.”
The state news agency IRNA, quoting the IRGC, said the ship that was seized on Wednesday night belonged to Iraq.
But Iraq‘s oil ministry denied the claim, saying it “does not export diesel to the international market”.
Al Jazeera’s Assed Baig, reporting from Iran’s capital, Tehran, said the detained crew members were taken to the southern port city of Bushehr.
“The Revolutionary Guards say that they carried out this operation once they had acquired the appropriate permits from the judiciary.”
Iran’s English-language Press TV aired a video that it said “shows the process through which the IRGC have halted the ship and taken it into custody”.
“The ship was seized in Iranian territorial waters and had been transporting diesel fuel,” it added.
The US Fifth Fleet, based in Bahrain, said it did not have information to confirm the reports. Maritime tracking experts also said they did not have any immediate information about the incident or the vessel.
Iran is still holding a British-flagged tanker it captured in the Strait of Hormuz for alleged marine violations.
The seizure of the Stena Impero came some two weeks after British forces captured an Iranian oil tanker near Gibraltar, accused of breaching European Union sanctions on Syria. Iran denies the ship was bound for the war-torn country.
Tensions have soared in recent months around the Strait of Hormuz, a critical oil shipping waterway that lies between Iran and Oman.
The friction is rooted in US President Donald Trump’s decision in May last year to unilaterally withdraw Washington from a landmark nuclear deal signed in 2015 between world powers and Iran, and reimpose sweeping sanctions on the country.
The US has boosted its military presence in the region, blaming Iran for multiple suspected attacks on tankers in the Gulf, which Tehran denies.
The standoff has prompted a discussion between the US, Britain and other nations on the possibility of creating an international mission to safeguard shipping in the Strait of Hormuz.
Bahrain is spearheading the effort to counter “Iran’s repeated aggression” against shipping in the Gulf and the strategic waterway.
Germany, one of the signatories to the 2015 deal, wishes to distance itself from Trump’s campaign against Iran, which is why it is unlikely Germany will participate in the mission.