Report: Crewmembers Aboard Iranian-Held Tanker Are Safe

IRGC attack boats in the Strait of Hormuz (USN file image)
IRGC attack boats in the Strait of Hormuz (USN file image)

Published Jan 14, 2024 5:00 PM by The Maritime Executive

The crewmembers of the tanker that was seized by Iranian forces last week are safe and unharmed, operator Empire Navigation said in a statement over the weekend. 

The firm has been in contact with Iranian authorities and has received assurances that the crew are being looked after properly. The crew is comprised of one Greek national and 18 Philippine nationals.

The tanker, the St. Nikolas, was under way on a voyage from Iraq to Turkey at the time of the seizure. It was under charter to a Turkish oil refining company.

Over the weekend, maritime intelligence firm TankerTrackers.com identified St. Nikolas by satellite imaging at a position off Qeshm Island, just south of Bandar Abbas. The location is within Iran's territorial seas and near to large Iranian military bases. 

On January 11, the UK Maritime Trade Organizations reported that the tanker had been boarded by four to five armed individuals about 50 nautical miles east of Sohar, Oman. The report said the individuals were wearing military-style black uniforms with black masks. 

Until recently, St. Nikolas was known as the Suez Rajan. The vessel was seized by American authorities last year and compelled to hand over a cargo of Iranian crude oil. The Iranian government has confirmed that last week's seizure was undertaken  “in retaliation for oil theft by the American regime.” 

The timing also preceded American-led strikes on Iran-allied Houthi rebels in Yemen. The Houthi forces have been attacking shipping in the Red Sea since November, and have succeeded in disrupting shipping operations on the core east-west trading route through the Suez Canal.

The overwhelming majority of container ships on Asia-Europe and Asia-U.S. East Coast voyages are now avoiding the Red Sea route, taking the far longer passage around the southern tip of Africa. This diversion typically adds 10 days onto any voyage.