Iran confirms its navy seized 'US oil tanker' in Gulf of Oman as tensions with US heat up

Iran confirms its navy seized 'US oil tanker' in Gulf of Oman as tensions with US heat up
Iran's navy seizes oil tanker off Oman in dispute with US, amid ongoing regional tensions following Israel's ongoing war on Gaza
3 min read
11 January, 2024
Iran's navy has seized a ship off Oman's coast [Getty]

Iran confirmed on Thursday that its forces seized an oil tanker in the Gulf of Oman, which was reported earlier in the day to have been boarded by armed men in military uniforms.

The state-run IRNA news agency ran a brief story acknowledging the seizure of the civilian vessel by Iran’s navy. 

Iran's navy later confirmed it seized the ship named St Nicholas, which was previously called Suez Rajan.

Suspicious had immediately fallen on Iran as the ship was once known as the Suez Rajan and had been involved in a year-long dispute that ultimately saw the US Justice Department seize 1 million barrels of Iranian crude oil on it.

"The Navy of the Islamic Republic of Iran seized an American oil tanker in the waters of the Gulf of Oman in accordance with a court order," the official IRNA news agency said.

The seizure was in retaliation for "violation committed by the Suez Rajan ship... and the theft of Iranian oil by the United States," IRNA said.

Iran has responded with tit-for-tat measures in the past after seizures of Iranian oil shipments. US sanctions target Iranian oil and petrochemical sales in a bid to reduce Iran's energy exports.

Tehran has been under crippling US sanctions reimposed following Washington's 2018 withdrawal from a landmark nuclear deal.

Ambrey, a British maritime risk company, said the group which boarded the St Nikolas covered the ship's cameras. A security officer "reported hearing unknown voices over the phone along with the master's voice", it added.

The apparent seizure also comes after weeks of attacks by Yemen's Iranian-backed Houthis on shipping in the Red Sea, including their largest-ever barrage of drones and missiles launched late Tuesday.

Communications have been lost with the vessel, which was carrying 19 crew - 18 Filipinos and one Greek - the tanker's Greece-based management company Empire Navigation told French news agency AFP in a statement.

The vessel had been loaded with 145,000 tonnes of crude oil in Basra, Iraq, and was destined for Aliaga in Turkey via the Suez Canal, Empire added.

Ambrey said the recently renamed tanker was previously prosecuted and fined for carrying sanctioned Iranian oil, which was confiscated by US authorities.

IRNA, quoting the Iranian navy's public relations office, said the ship was "being transferred to the ports of the Islamic republic for delivery to the judicial authorities".

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In September 2023, the United States said it had seized the Suez Rajan and its cargo of 980,000 barrels of crude oil months earlier.

The US Department of Justice said at the time that the oil on the Greek-managed tanker was allegedly being sold by Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps to China.

Shortly after that seizure, Iran seized two tankers - the Marshall Islands-flagged Advantage Sweet as it sailed toward the United States in the Gulf of Oman, and then the Greek-owned Niovi, as it travelled from Dubai to Fujairah.

The Gulf of Oman, a key route for the oil industry that separates Oman and Iran, has witnessed a series of hijackings and attacks over the years, often involving Iran.

Shipping in the resource-rich region is also on heightened alert following weeks of drone and missile attacks by Yemen's Iran-backed Houthis in the Red Sea, who said the attacks were prompted by Israel's war on Gaza.