Owners of Iranian tankers deny they were destined for Venezuela, mount US challenge

Owners of Iranian tankers deny they were destined for Venezuela, mount US challenge
The owners of the Iranian tankers seized by the US last month have mounted a court battle for their return.
3 min read
02 September, 2020
The owners deny the destination was Venezuela [Getty]

Owners of the four Iranian fuel cargoes confiscated by the US last month on suspicion of heading for Venezuela, have launched a court battle, claiming they have lost business and denying its final destination was the South American state.

Last month, Washington seized Iranian petrol cargo after reports  it was on its way to Venezuela after Tehran promised aid to Caracas, despite US sanctions on both countries.

The confiscated fuel amounts to 1.2 million barrels of Iranian petrol, valued at around $40 million, according to US officials quoted by The Financial Times.

However, according to court documents filed on Tuesday, three Arab companies filed documents with the District Court for the District of Columbia, Reuters reported.

UAE-based Mobin International Limited asserted it was the owner of the cargo aboard the Bella and Bering tankers, Oman Fuel (registered in the UK) claimed the cargo on the Pandi and Luna, and Oman-registered Sohar Fuel claimed part of the Luna haul.

The companies denied that the shipments were headed for Venezuela, and said they had sold the cargoes to the UAE-based Citi Energy FZC and had payment on delivery, which meant that they did not get paid.

"At the time they were seized, the Defendant Properties were destined for Trinidad for sale to customers in Peru and Colombia," the companies wrote in the filing.

"Claimants Mobin, Oman Fuel, and Sohar Fuel retain a financial stake in those agreements and have immediate right to title, possession, and control of the Defendant Properties," the companies added.

Tension in the seas

Iranian forces last month boarded a tanker in international waters in the Gulf of Oman, using a helicopter and two ships to take over the vessel for several hours, US officials said at the time.

They also posted grainy black-and-white footage of the helicopter hovering low over the vessel and special forces personnel fast-roping onto the deck.

"Today in international waters, Iranian forces, including two ships and an Iranian 'Sea King' helicopter, overtook and boarded a ship called the 'Wila'," the US Central Command said in a tweet on Wednesday.

A US defence official said the Iranians released the vessel, a Liberian-flagged oil and chemicals tanker, after holding it for four to five hours.

The incident occurred in international waters of the Gulf of Oman, just 32 kilometres (20 miles) off the coast of the UAE.

"Iranian special forces fast roped from the Sea King on to the ship," the official told AFP.

"A coalition ship monitored the event but did not receive a distress call from M/T Wila."

Iran and its arch enemy the US have traded barbs in the past year over a spate of incidents in the sensitive waters of the Gulf.

The escalation of Iran-US tensions last year saw ships mysteriously attacked, drones downed and oil tankers seized in the strait.

In July 2019, Iran's Revolutionary Guards seized the British-flagged oil tanker Stena Impero in the waterway for allegedly ramming a fishing boat and released it two months later.

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