Last week, Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) deployed gunboats in the Sea of Oman and swarmed around the U.S. Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS The Sullivans (DDG 68).
Footage of the encounter was released by Iranian media sources. The footage showed the IRGC gunboats swarming around an oil tanker and pointing machine guns at the nearby U.S. warship.
Iranian media outlets claimed the IRGC forces were stopping the U.S. from committing an act of “piracy” against an Iranian oil tanker, but that claim has been refuted by at least one U.S. official. The oil tanker in the video also appears to be a Vietnamese-flagged vessel called Sothys.
Jerusalem Post reported the oil tanker was from Iran and that after Iran claimed the U.S. seized the tanker, the IRGC forces used helicopters to land on the tanker and take it back to Iran.
Newsweek reported a U.S. official denied that the U.S. destroyer was trying to capture the vessel and instead said the warship was merely responding to observe the incident.
“We’re refuting the Iranian claims that they prevented us from taking back this vessel,” the official said. “Here’s the bottom line: This occurred last week. U.S. naval forces in the Gulf of Oman observed Iranian naval forces seize this oil tanker.”
“There were over 10 Iranian fast boats that swarmed this thing,” the official added. “There was a helicopter seen flying around, and, bottom line, our forces responded to monitor the situation.”
The official also said that the U.S. had declined to officially address the incident last week, citing “sensitivities”. The official said, “Iran is now spinning this against us, saying that they prevented us from taking back this vessel when it’s very clear that our forces were simply there monitoring.”
The U.S. has previously confiscated several tankers attempting to export Iranian oil, including to other sanctioned countries like Venezuela. In the past, Iran has been suspected of using oil tankers registered to other countries in an effort to circumvent sanctions. In January, the U.S. ordered the seizure of about 2 million barrels worth of suspected Iranian oil on board a Liberian-flagged vessel after the company that owns the tanker alerted the Department of Justice to a suspected fraudulent bill of lading.
The U.S. reinstated sanctions against Iran and its oil exports in 2018 after President Donald Trump withdrew from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, wherein the U.S. and other participating countries agreed to lower sanctions on Iran in exchange for the country to adhere to limits on its nuclear program. Iran has openly violated the deal’s limits on uranium stockpiling and enrichment.