Washington, Jan 11 (EFE). – The United States demanded Thursday that Iran immediately release the oil tanker it captured hours earlier in the Sea of Oman.
Iran seized the tanker, which was carrying Iraqi crude to Turkey, on the authority of an Iranian court order in retaliation for the US seizure of the same vessel last year when it was carrying Iranian oil, reported Iranian state media.
“The navy of the Islamic Republic of Iran seized an American oil tanker in the waters of the Gulf of Oman in accordance with a court order,” Iran’s IRNA news agency reported.
Although the Iranian Navy announced that the captured vessel was an “American tanker,” the US State Department claimed that the St. Nicholas was Greek-owned and sailing under the Marshall Islands flag.
“The Iranian government must immediately release the ship and its crew. This unlawful seizure of a commercial vessel is just the latest behavior by Iran, or enabled by Iran, aimed at disrupting international commerce,” State Department deputy spokesman Vedant Patel said at a press briefing.
Patel urged Tehran to cease such “provocative actions” because they “add uncertainty for commercial shipping” and “pose a menace to the global economy.”
Later, in another press briefing, John Kirby, a White House spokesman, condemned the seizure of the tanker and also called for its release.
“No justification whatsoever to seize it, none whatsoever. They need to let it go,” Kirby said.
According to the Greek state agency AMNA, the ship is crewed by 19 people, one of Greek nationality and 18 of Filipino nationality.
The ship in question, which used to sail under the name Suez Rajan, was involved in a year-long dispute in which the US Department of Justice ended up seizing one million barrels of Iranian crude oil that, it claimed, Iran’s Revolutionary Guards were selling to China.
Iran’s IRNA news agency said the ship was seized in retaliation for the “violation committed by the Suez Rajan ship…and the theft of Iranian oil by the United States.”
The ship is now on its way to the Iranian port of Bandar-e-Jask, according to a statement from British maritime security firm Ambrey Analytics.
The incident comes amid heightened tensions in the region, with an increase in attacks on ships in the Red Sea by Yemen’s Tehran-allied Houthi rebels in revenge for Israel’s offensive in the Gaza Strip. EFE