US suspects Iran seized 'missing' UAE oil tanker
A US defence official said on Tuesday that America "has suspicions" that Iran seized an oil tanker based in the United Arab Emirates that turned off its tracker over two days ago in the Strait of Hormuz.
The official said that the Panamanian-flagged oil tanker MT Riah is in Iranian territorial waters near Qeshm Island, which has a Revolutionary Guard base on it.
The official said that the boat had yet to contact its owners or UAE authorities. The official spoke on condition of anonymity as the matter did not directly involve US interests.
Tracking data shows the oil tanker based in the United Arab Emirates traveling through the Strait of Hormuz drifted off into Iranian waters and stopped transmitting its location over two days ago, raising concerns about its status amid heightened tensions between Iran and the US.
The US official said: "Could it have broken down or been towed for assistance? That's a possibility. But the longer there is a period of no contact, it's going to be a concern," The Associated Press reported.
The Riah, a 58-meter oil tanker, typically made trips from Dubai and Sharjah on the UAE's west coast before going through the strait and heading to Fujairah on the UAE's east coast.
Capt. Ranjith Raja of the data firm Refinitiv told The Associated Press on Tuesday that the tanker hadn't switched off its tracking in three months of trips around the UAE.
"That is a red flag," Raja said.
Iranian officials have not said anything publicly about the ship, nor have officials in the UAE.
Its last position showed it pointing toward Iran. Oil tankers have previously been targeted as the Persian Gulf region took centre stage in a crisis over Iran's unravelling nuclear deal with world powers.
The concern about the Riah comes as Iran continues its own high-pressure campaign over its nuclear program after President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew America from the accord over a year ago.
Recently, Iran has inched its uranium production and enrichment over the limits of its 2015 nuclear deal, trying to put more pressure on Europe to offer it better terms and allow it to sell its crude oil abroad.
However, those tensions also have seen the US send thousands of additional troops, nuclear-capable B-52 bombers and advanced fighter jets into the Mideast.
Mysterious attacks on oil tankers and Iran shooting down a US military surveillance drone has added to the fears of an armed conflict breaking out.
The US Navy's 5th Fleet, which oversees Mideast waters, declined to immediately comment.