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Video: Iran seizes oil tanker for hours in Strait of Hormuz

An Iranian SH-3 Sea King helicopter lowers troops onto the deck of a Liberian-flagged oil tanker, Aug. 12, 2020 (U.S. Central Command photo/Released)
August 13, 2020

Iran seized a Liberian-flagged oil tanker near the Strait of Hormuz and held the ship for several hours before releasing it on Wednesday.

“Today in international waters, Iranian forces, including two ships and an Iranian “Sea King” helicopter, overtook and boarded a ship called the ‘Wila,'” U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) said in a Twitter statement.

In a video of the incident, troops can be seen fast-roping in from a Sikorsky SH-3 Sea King helicopter onto the deck of the oil tanker.

U.S. military official who spoke with the Associated Press on condition of anonymity said the Iranian Navy held the Liberian vessel for about five hours before releasing it.

The Liberian vessel MT Wila made no distress calls before, during, or after the period it was under apparent Iranian Navy control, one military official told the AP. Officials said no reason was known as to why the Iranian Navy boarded the vessel.

A timeline of the MT Wila’s movements is available on MarineTraffic, a website that shares tracking data for international ships. A vessel timeline shows between the ship had little or no movement, hovering around .5 nautical miles per hour of speed for a 14-hour period between late Wednesday evening and Thursday morning.

After resuming normal movement speed, the vessel stopped near the United Arab Emirates port city of Khorfakkan.

The incident comes amid tensions between the U.S. and Iran, including U.S. efforts in the U.N. to extend an existing arms embargo against Iran. The incident also follows a pattern of Iranian interference with shipping in the Strait of Hormuz.

Private maritime intelligence firm Dryad Global told the AP that Iran had been suspected of harassing two other ships in the Persian Gulf last week.

In July, the AP reported the United Nation’s International Labor Organization (ILO) confirmed reports Iran “hijacked” another oil tanker off the coast of the United Arab Emirates earlier on July 5.

Iran has seized other foreign vessels in the Strait of Hormuz in the past. In December of 2019, Iranian state media announced the country’s paramilitary Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) had seized a vessel they claimed was illegally smuggling fuel.

Video from June of 2019 shows IRGC naval forces removing a mine from a Japanese-flagged oil tanker damaged during an attack. President Donald Trump blamed Iran at the time for the attack on the Japanese tanker as well as a reported attack on a Norwegian-flagged vessel.