Iran is suspected of seizing a U.A.E. oil tanker from the Strait of Hormuz over the weekend.
Tracking data shows that the last known location of the MT Riah, a Panamanian-flagged oil tanker based in the U.A.E., was in Iranian waters near the Strait of Hormuz before it suddenly stopped transmitting its location, Fox News reported Wednesday.
“We certainly have suspicions that it was taken. Could it have broken down or been toward for assistance? That’s a possibility,” an unidentified U.S. official told The Associated Press. “But the longer there is a period of no contact. It’s going to be a concern.”
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi insisted that Iran helped the tanker.
“Abbas Mousavi said based on the international regulations, after receiving their request for help, Iranian forces went to the site and the foreign tanker was towed by an emergency towing vessel toward Iranian waters for repairing process,” Iran’s state-run Islamic Republic News Agency reported Wednesday.
However, the vague statement only confirms that the vessel traveled toward Iranian waters, and does not provide any details about how or when that vessel may exit Iranian waters.
Here’s the last known location of the UAE RIAH #tanker vanished in #Iran waters. UAE believes that the #IRGC forced it into Iran waters, and #USA says no contact with crew has been made so far. pic.twitter.com/6DF9TU6Vi6
— intel.wav (@inteldotwav) July 15, 2019
“The tanker in question is neither owned nor operated by the UAE,” a U.A.E. official said in a statement to the Emirates News Agency. “It does not carry Emirati personnel, and did not emit a distress call.”
“We are monitoring the situation with our international partners,” the official noted.
Capt. Ranjith Raja of the data firm Refinitiv said the ship’s abrupt stop to its location transmission “is a red flag.”
It is suspected that Iran may have seized the ship in retaliation for Britain seizing a supertanker that was found to be carrying 2.1 million barrels of oil. The tanker was also from Panama.
After the incident, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei vowed retaliation over the “illegal” seizure of its oil tanker by Britain.
“God willing, the Islamic Republic and its committed forces will not leave this evil without a response,” he said.
British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said that the Iranian ship will be returned if Iran guarantees the oil shipment does not reach Syria, which would be a breach of sanctions imposed by the European Union.
Iran has made repeated threats to close the Strait of Hormuz or otherwise interfere with crude oil shipments that pass through the region if it is prevented from selling its own oil.