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Iranian fuel cargo headed for US after seizure warrant issued

The fuel was headed for Venezuela [Getty/ Archive]

Date of publication: 14 August, 2020

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The confiscated fuel amounts to 1.2 million barrels of Iranian petrol, valued at around $40 million.

Tankers carrying Iranian fuel cargoes have been issued with a seizure warrant and are making their way to the United States, a government source revealed.

The cargoes were originally meant for Venezuela, after Tehran promised to aid Caracas with fuel 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.

Earlier this week Iran took action against a ship in the Gulf as retaliation against the owner of the vessels carrying the fuel cargo, a government source and two shipping sources said.

Last month the US filed a lawsuit to seize the gasoline aboard the four tankers, resulting in a judge issuing a warrant for seizure.

The fuel is being transported into US territorial waters, as that is the only way it can be seized. The tankers' owners agreed to have the fuel transferred to other vessels in order for it to be transferred to the US.

The four tankers that initially carried the cargoes were the Liberia-flagged Bella, Bering, Pandi and Luna, and a fifth, Wila, was boarded by Iranian forces near the Strait of Hormuz.

All are owned or managed by companies controlled by Greek-based firms Vienna LTD and Palermo SA.

Tension in the seas

Iranian forces on Thursday 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.

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 United Arab Emirates.

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

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

Iran and its arch enemy the United States 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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