The Panamanian flag flies on the stern of the Iranian oil tanker, Grace 1. Photo/REUTERS
TEHERAN – Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) seized two foreign-flagged oil tankers suspected of smuggling more than 1.5 million liters of fuel in the Persian Gulf.
“Panama and Tanzanian-flagged tankers were detained by the IRGC Navy,” Iranian media quoted Admiral Mohammad-Sharif Shirali, deputy commander of the IRGC Navy’s Third Naval Zone, as saying.
He said the 37 crew members on the two ships were handed over to judicial authorities to undergo necessary legal procedures.
The official, who provided details of the operation, said the IRGC Navy stationed at Mahshahr Port in southern Khuzestan province, over the past two days, had closely monitored the two foreign oil vessels and finally arrested them on court orders.
Iranian naval forces have, on several occasions in recent years, seized foreign-flagged vessels in the Persian Gulf for suspected fuel smuggling or violations of maritime regulations.
In July, a Bahamian-flagged oil tanker, the “Richmond Voyager”, was seized after allegedly ramming an Iranian vessel in the Sea of Oman, southern Hormozgan province.
Following the incident, the US Navy issued a statement saying it dispatched the guided-missile destroyer, “USS McFaul”, in response to a distress call from a Bahamian-flagged tanker after Iranian authorities asked the tanker to stop and opened fire on it.
The incident comes less than two months after the IRGC seized a Panama-flagged tanker in the Strait of Hormuz, calling it a “violator.”
Previously, a Marshal Island-flagged tanker was detained by Iranian troops and directed to Iranian coastal waters in the Sea of Oman, following an encounter with an Iranian ship.
These incidents come amid rising tensions between Iran and the US after the Pentagon announced the deployment of an amphibious warship and a Marine expeditionary group to the Persian Gulf to secure its shipping lanes.
Last month, amid tensions, the IRGC Navy released footage of an encounter between its speedboat and a US aircraft carrier in the Strait of Hormuz.
This comes exactly a year after the IRGC withdrew unmanned US vessels in the Persian Gulf, saying it was doing so to “ensure the security of shipping lanes”.