Iran seized a Marshall Islands-flagged oil tanker in the Gulf of Oman on Thursday amid wider tensions over Tehran’s nuclear program, the U.S. Navy said.
The Navy’s Mideast-based 5th Fleet identified the vessel as the Advantage Sweet. Satellite tracking data for the vessel from MarineTraffic.com showed it in the Gulf of Oman just north of Oman’s capital, Muscat, on Thursday afternoon. It had just come from Kuwait and listed its destination as Houston, Texas.
The Advantage Sweet issued a distress call at 1:15 p.m. while in international waters as Iran seized the vessel, the Navy said.
“Iran’s actions are contrary to international law and disruptive to regional security and stability,” the 5th Fleet said in a statement. “Iran should immediately release the oil tanker.”
The Navy identified Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard as seizing the vessel. However, Iranian state television some two hours later acknowledged the seizure but attributed it to Iran’s navy, rather than the paramilitary force.
The discrepancy could not be immediately reconciled and Iran gave no reasons to explain its seizure of the vessel.
The 5th Fleet said the Iranian seizure was at least the fifth commercial vessel taken by Tehran in the last two years.
“Iran’s continued harassment of vessels and interference with navigational rights in regional waters are a threat to maritime security and the global economy,” it added.
The vessel’s manager, a Turkish firm, did not respond to requests for comment. Its listed owner appeared to be a Chinese company.
Thursday’s seizure by Iran was the latest in a string of hijackings and explosions to roil a region that includes the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow mouth of the Persian Gulf through which a fifth of all traded oil passes.
The incidents began after then-President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew the United States from Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers, which saw Tehran drastically limit its enrichment of uranium in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions.
Also, the U.S. Navy has blamed Iran for a series of limpet mine attacks on vessels that damaged tankers in 2019, as well as for a fatal drone attack on an Israeli-linked oil tanker that killed two European crew members in 2021.
Tehran denies carrying out the attacks, but a wider shadow war between Iran and the West has played out in the region’s volatile waters. Iranian tanker seizures have been a part of it since 2019. The last major seizure came when Iran took two Greek tankers in May and held them until November.
Talks over Iran’s tattered nuclear deal have been stalled for a year. Since the deal’s collapse, Iran runs advanced centrifuges and has a rapidly growing stockpile of enriched uranium. The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency has warned Iran has enriched enough up to 60% purity — a short technical step from weapons-grade levels of 90%. That would be sufficient for Iran to make several nuclear weapons if it chooses to do so. [AP News]