Iran seizes third tanker and seven sailors in Persian Gulf

Iran yesterday said it had captured an oil tanker and seven sailors it accused of “smuggling” fuel through the Persian Gulf to Arab states – the third such seizure in recent months.  

Iranian state television reported that the country’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corp detained the tanker, its crew and 700,000 litres of fuel on Wednesday.

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"The seizure of the oil tanker was in coordination with Iran’s judiciary authorities and based on their order. It was taken to the Bushehr port, where its fuel was handed over to the authorities,” said Guards commander Ramezan Zirahi. 

The incident marks the latest instalment in a series of actions designed to broadcast power and strength to the West.  Tensions in the Persian Gulf have been high since US President Donald Trump withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal last year, cutting the prized economic lifeline Tehran was offered in exchange for curtailing its nuclear programme.

Since then, Iran has struggled to fight back against a combination of sanctions and diplomatic isolation, and to curtail rampant fuel smuggling, by sea and land, to neighbouring countries including Arab rivals.

Entreaties to European signatories to the nuclear deal to pressure the US to back down have thus far fallen short, leaving Tehran looking to its nuclear programme and the Strait of Hormuz for sticks where carrots have failed. The IRGC captured the Panama-flagged Riah last month, accusing it of smuggling cheap, state-subsidized Iranian fuel.

That incident followed the tit-for-tat detention of British tanker Stena Impero earlier in July, two weeks after British forces captured an Iranian oil tanker near Gibraltar accused of violating sanctions on Syria. British authorities say the Iranian seizure was illegal and have ruled out a swap of the two vessels.

Twenty percent of global oil consumption passes through the Strait of Hormuz, and Iran has threatened to block all exports if the international community bow to US calls to stop buying Iranian oil. In recent days, the Washington-Tehran confrontation has reached new heights, with the US announcing sanctions against Iranian Foreign Minister Javid Zarif, a key architect of the scrapped nuclear deal. 

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani called the sanctions “childish”. On Saturday, Mr Zarif said Iran would soon take “the third step” in reducing its commitments made under the deal. 

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