Iran's paramilitary Revolutionary Guard forces have seized a foreign oil tanker accused of smuggling oil with a crew of 12, Iran's state TV reported Thursday, July 18, just days after an oil tanker based in the United Arab Emirates disappeared off trackers in Iranian territorial waters, The Associated Press reports.
The seizure was the latest in a series of dramatic developments as tensions mount between the United States and Iran over the unravelling nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers.
The Panamanian-flagged oil tanker MT Riah stopped transmitting its location early Sunday near Qeshm Island, which has a Revolutionary Guard base on it, according to data listed on tracking site Maritime Traffic.
Iran's state television did not identify the seized vessel or nationalities of the crew, but said it was intercepted on Sunday. It said the oil tanker had 12 foreign crew members on board and was involved in smuggling some 1 million liters (264,000 gallons) of fuel from Iranian smugglers to foreign customers.
The report said the oil tanker was intercepted south of Iran's Larak Island in the Strait of Hormuz. Larak is a smaller island just southeast of the larger Qeshm Island.
Crude prices, which had been falling since last week, ticked higher almost immediately after reports of the incident.
The seizure of the ship does not immediately appear to directly target any one particular country and shows the Revolutionary Guard cracking down on illegal smuggling of Iranian oil.
If the MT Riah was indeed the ship seized, the move directly singles out UAE-bound and based vessels. The 58-meter (190-foot) Riah 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.
The UAE has been calling for a de-escalation of tensions between the U.S. and Iran in past weeks, but has also lobbied for tougher U.S. policies on Iran and supports the maximum pressure campaign of sanctions imposed by the Trump administration since the U.S. unilaterally pulled out of Iran's nuclear deal with world powers.
The ship's seizure comes after a tense, but brief standoff last week between the British navy and Iran's Revolutionary Guard in the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow mouth of the Persian Gulf through which a fifth of all crude oil passes. The British government said a navy frigate had to warn away the paramilitary vessels from disrupting the passage of a British oil tanker through the strait.