Iran ‘seizes foreign oil tanker’ with 12 crew on board

Tensions between Tehran and the UK are rising after a series of run-ins in the Gulf

Richard Hall,Gemma Fox
Thursday 18 July 2019 12:22 BST
Iran's supreme leader warns UK over tanker seizure

Iran’s Revolutionary Guard has seized a “foreign” tanker with 12 people on board in the Strait of Hormuz, accusing the crew of smuggling oil.

A report on state television said the boat was taking fuel from Iranian smugglers to foreign customers when it was intercepted south of Iran’s Larak Island.

The vital oil shipping route has become a flashpoint in a standoff between Iran and the US, which was sparked when President Donald Trump abandoned a landmark nuclear deal and reintroduced sanctions.

Just days ago, a tanker from the United Arab Emirates disappeared from trackers in Iranian territorial waters, sparking fears that it had been seized by Iran.

Iran said it had come to the aid of a ship after receiving a distress call, but on Thursday the Revolutionary Guards said the vessel had been impounded.

“The vessel that Iran towed to its waters after receiving a distress call was later seized with the order from the court as we found out that it was smuggling fuel,” the guard said in a statement quoted on state television.

Images released later by Iran revealed the impounded tanker was called MT Riah – but it is still unclear who owns it.

Tensions have been high in the Strait of Hormuz since British Royal Marines seized an Iranian tanker in Gibraltar on suspicion that it was ferrying a cargo of 2.1 million barrels of crude oil to Syria, in contravention of European sanctions.

Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, vowed to retaliate to the seizure, calling it an act of “piracy”.

“God willing, the Islamic Republic and its committed forces will not leave this evil without a response,” he said.

Last week, Iranian boats tried to impede a British oil tanker before being seen off by a Royal Navy frigate in the Strait of Hormuz.

In response, the Ministry of Defence announced the deployment of another Royal Navy boat and a Royal Fleet Auxiliary vessel to the Persian Gulf.

Iran has recently increased uranium production and enrichment above the limits of its 2015 nuclear deal, trying to put more pressure on Europe to offer it better terms and allow it to sell its crude oil abroad.

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