Iran oil cargo on tanker confiscated by US as tensions escalate

The US has reportedly removed Iranian oil from a tanker at sea as part of a sanctions enforcement operation. Days later Iran is said to have seized a different tanker containing oil in retaliation, according to reports.

With oil markets remaining inconsistent, this is just the latest in the significant escalation between Washington and Tehran following years of red tape pressure from the US over Iran’s nuclear programme.

The sanctions are not recognised by Iran, and the country’s oil exports have been ramped up.

Tehran has insisted its nuclear programme is for civilian purposes but Washington is suspicious that Iran wants to produce a nuclear bomb.

The US confiscation reportedly happened at least five days prior to Iran’s action on Thursday, according to maritime security company Ambrey.

It said in an advisory to clients: “Ambrey has assessed the seizure by the Iranian Navy to be in response to the US action.

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“Both tankers were Suezmax-sized. Iran has previously responded tit-for-tat following seizures of Iranian oil cargo.”

Reuters reports that sources close to the issue, who remain anonymous, said Washington seized the oil cargo aboard the Marshall Islands tanker Suez Rajan after an earlier court order was secured.

According to ship tracking data the last reported location of the tanker was close to southern Africa on April 22.

The US Department of Justice and the Greece-based manager of the vessel Empire Navigation did not respond immediately to comment requests.

The Iranian navy seized a Marshall Islands-flagged tanker in the Gulf of Oman on Thursday, which is the most recent of a growing number of seizures by Tehran on commercial vessels in Gulf waters.

The tanker ignored radio calls for eight hours following a crash with an Iranian boat according to Iranian state TV, leaving numerous crewmen hurt and three missing.

Rear Admiral Mostafa Tajodini, Iranian deputy navy commander, told the broadcaster: “Before using force, we tried to call the vessel to stop but they did not co-operate.”

A UN spokesperson said on Friday that UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres knew about the Gulf of Oman seizure and restated their endorsement of international maritime law.

Last year the US made efforts to confiscate a cargo of Iranian oil near Greece, which provoked Iranian retaliation in the form of the seizure of two Greek tankers in the gulf.

They were both soon released.

In efforts to reduce tension President Joe Biden was urged by 12 US Senators on Thursday to remove Treasury Department police obstacles that have prohibited the Department of Homeland Security from taking Iranian oil shipments for over a year.

In 2020 the US confiscated four cargoes of Iranian fuel that were aboard foreign ships heading to Venezuela before transferring them with the assistance of anonymous foreign partners onto a pair of other ships which then travelled to the US.