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Iran Guards seize 'foreign tanker' accused of fuel smuggling

The tanker was accused of smuggling oil [Getty]

Date of publication: 19 July, 2019

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A tanker accused of smuggling Iranian oil was seized south of the Iranian island of Larak, Iran's Revolutionary Guards said, said without detailing the name or provenance of the vessel.
Iran's Revolutionary Guards said they had detained a "foreign tanker" and its crew for allegedly smuggling fuel on Thursday, in the latest incident to send tensions soaring in the Gulf.

The announcement follows Iran saying it had come to the aid of a foreign tanker after receiving a distress call - making no mention of the vessel being seized.

The Guards did not confirm whether the vessel they detained Sunday in the strategic Strait of Hormuz was the same ship as that mentioned on Tuesday by the foreign ministry.

"With a capacity of two million litres and 12 foreign crew on board, the vessel was en route to deliver contraband fuel received from Iranian boats to foreign ships in farther regions when it was intercepted," the force's Sepahnews website said.

It was seized south of the Iranian island of Larak, the Guards said without detailing the name or provenance of the vessel.

The Guards' statement came after officials said Iran had come to the aid of an ailing tanker on Sunday.

"Iranian forces approached it and using a tugboat brought it into Iranian waters for necessary repairs," foreign ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said.

TankerTrackers reported that the Panamanian-flagged tanker Riah, used in the Strait of Hormuz "for fuelling other vessels", had crossed into Iranian waters on Sunday.

According to the online oil shipment tracking service, at that point the tanker's automatic identification system stopped sending signals.

On Thursday, US President Donald Trump said an American naval vessel downed an Iranian drone on Thursday that threatened the ship as it was entering the Strait - a claim vehemently denied by Tehran.

Tehran denied claims by the United States that it had downed one of its drones, saying all Iranian aircraft were accounted for.

Iran's armed forces dismissed Trump's assertion as "baseless and delusional".

"All of (Iran's) drones... have safely returned to their bases," said armed forces spokesman Brigadier General Abolfazl Shekarchi.

"There have been no reports of a confrontation with the American USS Boxer" naval vessel, he added, quoted by Tasnim. 

Tanker tit-for-tat 

The confrontation comes after Tehran shot down an American surveillance drone in June it said was flying in its airspace, a claim denied by the United States.

Trump said he called off retaliatory strikes at the last minute following the incident.

Iran has in turn refuted US accusations that it was behind a series of recent tanker attacks off the United Arab Emirates coast and the Gulf of Oman.

The tanker troubles further intensified on July 4, when Gibraltar detained an Iranian vessel with the help of British Royal Marines.

US officials believed the tanker was destined for Syria to deliver oil, in violation of separate sets of European Union and US sanctions.

Iran furiously branded the seizure "piracy", and one week later, London said Iranian boats menaced a British tanker in the Gulf before they were driven off by a Royal Navy frigate.

That led to US calls for an international flotilla to escort hydrocarbon-laden vessels from Gulf oil fields through the Hormuz Strait.

The incidents have raised fears of a regional conflict involving the US and its allies in the Gulf region, through which nearly a third of the world's oil is transported.

The top commander of Iran's Revolutionary Guards' said they were not seeking to "initiate a war" but would respond to hostilities.

"If enemies make a mistake in calculation, our defensive strategy and all our capacities will change to offensive," said General Hossein Salami, quoted by the force's Sepahnews website.

His comments came after the Guards said on Thursday they had seized a "foreign tanker" believed to be the Panamanian-flagged vessel Riah and its crew.

Iran's Revolutionary Guards accuse the ship of smuggling Iranian fuel.

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