In a tit-for-tat move, Iran seized the Marshall Islands-flagged tanker, St Nikolas, carrying Iraqi crude destined for Turkey.
The vessel, previously confiscated by the United States for transporting Iranian oil, was boarded by armed intruders near the Omani city of Sohar. The incident is seen as retaliation for the U.S. seizure last year.
Maritime Security Firm’s Report:
British maritime security firm Ambrey reported that the armed intruders disabled St. Nikolas’ AIS tracking system as it approached the Iranian port of Bandar-e-Jask.
The vessel’s history includes a 2023 seizure by the U.S. under the name Suez Rajan for attempting to transport contraband Iranian oil to China, violating U.S. sanctions.
The Iranian Army’s Navy announced the seizure, citing a judicial order and describing the tanker as American, although its origin is Marshall Islands-flagged.
Iran had previously warned of repercussions for the U.S. seizure. The vessel, operated by Empire Navigation and chartered by Turkish oil refiner Tupras, was loaded with 145,000 metric tonnes of oil in Basra.
Location and Crew Details:
The incident happened in the Gulf of Oman, closer to the Strait of Hormuz, a critical waterway between Oman and Iran.
Manned by 19 crew members, including 18 Filipinos and one Greek, the vessel had altered course towards Iranian territorial waters. Communication was lost, prompting investigations by authorities.
UKMTO’s Report and Investigation:
The U.K. Maritime Trade Operations reported armed intruders boarding the vessel, wearing military-style uniforms and masks.
The chief security officer reported a course change towards Iranian waters and lost communication. UKMTO is actively investigating the incident, with no further contact established with the tanker.
U.S. Response and Previous Seizure:
The United States Navy’s Fifth Fleet has not provided immediate comments or information.
The Suez Rajan, carrying over 980,000 barrels of Iranian crude last year, was unable to unload the cargo due to fears of secondary sanctions on vessels involved in the operation.
It was renamed St Nikolas after the oil was confiscated in the U.S. sanctions enforcement operation.