Why did Iran seize a US-bound oil tanker in the Gulf of Oman?

Neither side has acknowledged whether Iran’s capture of the Turkish-operated fuel tanker was a tit-for-tat move.

Advantage Sweet oil tanker on open waters
The MarineTraffic tracking website last showed the Advantage Sweet, owned by Advantage Tankers, off the coast of Oman [File: Yoruk Isik/Reuters]

Tehran, Iran – Iran and the United States have again found themselves on opposite sides as they provided contradictory accounts of events that led to Tehran’s seizure of an oil tanker in the Gulf of Oman.

Iran’s state television on Friday showed footage of the country’s navy commandos boarding the Marshall Islands-flagged tanker Advantage Sweet in a helicopter operation a day earlier.

The Turkish-operated, Chinese-owned tanker entered the Gulf of Oman after moving through the Strait of Hormuz and was reportedly bound for Houston, Texas carrying Kuwaiti crude oil for US energy firm Chevron Corp.

Iran said the tanker collided with an unidentified Iranian vessel hours before its seizure, leading to several crew members falling overboard and going missing and others getting injured. The tanker then fled the scene and ignored radio calls for eight hours before its seizure based on a court order, the Iranian army said.

“We repeatedly called on the vessel to stop so we can conduct a more comprehensive investigation, but there was no cooperation,” Mostafa Tajodini, deputy for operations at the Iranian navy, told state media.

The vessel’s manager, a Turkish firm called Advantage Tankers, said similar experiences have shown that crew members – all 24 of whom are Indian – are in no danger.

The Middle East-based US Navy 5th Fleet had said Iran’s actions constituted a violation of international law and called on Tehran to immediately release the tanker.

“Iran’s continued harassment of vessels and interference with navigational rights in regional waters are a threat to maritime security and the global economy,” it said, adding this was at least the fifth commercial vessel taken by Iran in the past two years.

Tit-for-tat move

On Friday, the Reuters news agency reported the seizure of the vessel came as a response to the confiscation of an oil tanker by the US in an effort to enforce its unilateral sanctions on Tehran.

The report said the Iran-linked tanker was the Marshall Islands-flagged Suez Rajan that had a Greece-based manager and was last reported to be positioned near Southern Africa before being seized several days prior to the taking of the Advantage Sweet vessel by Iran.

There are precedents for such tit-for-tat moves, with the US trying to confiscate a cargo of Iranian oil near Greece last year, prompting Tehran to seize two Greek tankers and hold them for months. The supreme court in Greece ultimately ordered the cargo returned to Iran, and the Greek vessels were also released.

Washington imposed its harshest-ever sanctions on Iran, which include a major focus on impeding Tehran’s oil sales, after former President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from a 2015 nuclear deal with world powers in 2018.

Amid deadlocked efforts to restore the nuclear accord, which put curbs on Iran’s nuclear programme in exchange for the lifting of sanctions, Iran has been circumventing the embargoes and steadily boosting its oil sales.

Twelve US senators on Thursday urged President Joe Biden to remove Treasury Department policy hurdles that have impeded the seizure of more Iranian oil shipments in a call that is likely to increase tensions.

Source: Al Jazeera