US officials are alerted as a small oil tanker from the UAE that was sailing through the Strait of Hormuz turned its tracker off on Saturday, having the US suspect that Iran has seized the vessel due to tensions in the region. Although the Panamanian-flagged Riah turned off its transponder, an Emirati official noted that there was no distress call coming from the vessel.
Specifically, after the news on the oil tanker, local Iranian media, IRNA news agency, reported that a Foreign Ministry Spokesman, Abbas Mousavi, stated that the Islamic Republic assisted a foreign oil tanker three days ago but didn’t provide any further details. The concern rises as Iran continues its campaign in support of its nuclear programme, after President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew America from the accord over a year ago.
In the meantime, the never-ending tensions between the US and Iran, following Iran shooting down a US drone, boost the fears over an armed conflict.
According to AP, usually Riah was operating through Dubai and Sharjah, on the UAE’s west coast, prior to sailing through the strait, heading to Fujairah on the UAE’s east coast. Yet, based on the vessel’s tracking data something occurred around 11:00 p.m. on Saturday.
[smlsubform prepend=”GET THE SAFETY4SEA IN YOUR INBOX!” showname=false emailtxt=”” emailholder=”Enter your email address” showsubmit=true submittxt=”Submit” jsthanks=false thankyou=”Thank you for subscribing to our mailing list”]
Meanwhile, Capt. Ranjith Raja of the data firm Refinitiv stated on The Associated Press that the tanker hadn’t turned off its tracking for three months sailing around the UAE, therefore he believes that ‘There is a red flag’. In addition, a US defence official added to AP that the Riah was in Iranian territorial waters near Qeshm Island, which has a Revolutionary Guard base on it.
AP was later on informed that the ‘lost’ vessel’s registered owner, Dubai-based Prime Tankers LLC, had sold the vessel to another company, named Mouj Al-Bahar. However, AP noted that in communication with a man who answered the phone registered to the firm reported that the company didn’t own any vessels. In addition to this information, the Emirati official stressed that the vessel was neither UAE owned nor operated.
Sources commented that this episode follows an incident, when a week before UK Royal Marines assisted the Gibraltar authorities detain an Iranian tanker that US officials believe was trying to deliver oil to Syria in violation of separate sets of EU and US sanctions.
Iran has confirmed the arrest, while British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt tried to ease tensions on Monday by saying the tanker would be released if Tehran guaranteed it was not heading to Syria.