Iran says seized tanker was smuggling oil

Tensions in the Persian Gulf have increased once again after Iran claimed the ship it seized was smuggling oil.

al-monitor Military units of the IRGC Ground Force are seen on boats as they launch war games in the Gulf, Dec. 22, 2018. Photo by Hamed Malekpour/Tasnim News Agency via REUTERS.

Topics covered

us-iran escalation, us-iranian conflict, us-iran tensions, oil tankers, persian gulf, strait of hormuz

Jul 18, 2019

Iranian state TV reported July 18 that according to a statement released by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) naval force, a foreign ship carrying one million liters of smuggled oil was confiscated south of Larak Island near the Strait of Hormuz. According to the IRGC, Iranian ships were on patrol for “organized smugglers” when they came across the tanker and took action “after becoming certain it was smuggling oil through a foreign ship.”

The IRGC statement read that 12 individuals were apprehended and that the seized tanker had the capacity to carry two million liters of oil. 

This incident comes days after another in the Persian Gulf. The oil tanker MT Riah, which is Panamanian-flagged and based in the United Arab Emirates, went missing in the Gulf along with its crew of 25 people. Iran said that the ship sent out a distress signal over technical difficulties, so was guided to Iranian territory. Immediately after the incident, a UAE-based newspaper clarified that the ship does not belong to the UAE. US officials believe the tanker was taken to an IRGC base on Qeshm Island.

The IRGC statement read that today’s seizure was not related to the incident involving the Riah tanker. 

UK Secretary of State for Defense Penny Mordaunt urged Iran to de-escalate tensions in the Persian Gulf. “It is vital that we send a very clear message to Iran that we want them to step back from this situation, that we want them to de-escalate, but we have always and will continue to protect shipping and the free flow of goods in that area,” Mordaunt said. 

Iran and the UK have been involved in their own battle over the seizure of an Iranian tanker two weeks ago that the UK says was destined for Syria. After mediation by other European countries and Gulf allies, Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs Jeremy Hunt said that the UK would be willing to release the tanker if it is not sent to Syria. The Syrian government is under an EU embargo. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif denied that the tanker was destined for Syria. 

Ali Fadavi, deputy commander of the IRGC, discussed the latest incidents in the Persian Gulf after a speech to university students July 18. “Confronting us has brought a lot of pressure on them,” Fadavi said of the United States. “The rate of American sea accidents have increased and this is a result of the psychological pressure on them.” He continued, “Whenever they enter the Persian Gulf they tell themselves they have entered hell. When they leave the Persian Gulf they tell themselves they have left hell. They are enduring a difficult psychological situation.” 

Fadavi went on, “In recent years, given that the new American president understands better the logic of costs-benefits and uses that terminology, he says that the security of the Persian Gulf has nothing to do with us.”

He continued, “Changing strategies for a country that claims to be a superpower is not easy and it will not do it until it is forced to. America will soon reach the decision it is not in its interests to remain in the region. Because it has found out in recent years that it will not be victorious in these fights.”