Iran Claims Victory Over US After Seizing Small, Aging Coastal Tanker

IRGC attack boats
File image courtesy Fars / IRGC

Published Jul 10, 2023 4:40 PM by Paul Benecki

On July 6, Iran's Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) carried out a routine seizure of a product tanker carrying about 900 tonnes of smuggled Iranian fuel in the Persian Gulf. U.S. 5th Fleet said that it monitored the small-scale interdiction and concluded that "this event did not warrant further response," but the IRGC claimed it as a substantial victory - and a "humiliation" for American forces. 

The IRGC is notorious for harassing, boarding and commandeering large foreign tankers when the circumstances align with Iran's interests - for example, attempting to capture an America-bound oil cargo in a tit-for-tat response after the U.S. seizes an Iranian oil cargo. Last week, U.S. 5th Fleet deterred two such incidents in the Gulf of Oman in high-stakes naval operations. In the first incident, an Iranian naval vessel opened fire on the tanker Richmond Voyager off the coast of Oman. In the second, an Iranian vessel followed the tanker TRF Moss in the Gulf of Oman in a concerning pattern. In both cases, Iranian forces left after U.S. 5th Fleet deployed response assets. 

Iran's foreign tanker interdictions get international attention, but the IRGC also regularly interdicts small, aging coastal vessels for smuggling Iranian fuel. Diesel is heavily subsidized in the Islamic Republic, and exporting it illegally is profitable; while most of the smuggled fuel goes by road over the Iranian border, a portion goes by sea on aging coastal vessels. 

These law-enforcement seizures have little impact on Western interests, but on Monday, Iranian media suggested that U.S. forces had made an unsuccessful attempt to deter an IRGC counter-smuggling interdiction - and had "failed."

"The forces of the IRGC's second naval zone were inspecting a vessel with the commercial name of [Nada 2] that was involved in the organized smuggling of the Islamic Republic’s oil and gas in the Persian Gulf, when the Americans started a series of unprofessional and risky actions," said IRGC General Ramazan Zirrahi. 

According to Zirrahi, U.S. forces dispatched two A-10 ground attack aircraft, two Seahawk helicopters, a P-8A surveillance aircraft and an MQ-9 drone to defend the UAE-flagged Nada 2. The American response force "tried until the very last moment" to prevent the boarding of the 34-year-old, 970-dwt product tanker, Zirrahi claimed. 

“With vigilance, precision, professional behavior, and the power of the IRGC Navy, the illegal and unprofessional actions of the Americans in the Persian Gulf were confronted and resulted in their failure and humiliation," he concluded. 

In a statement, U.S. 5th Fleet confirmed that the IRGC had seized a vessel "possibly engaged in smuggling activity" in international waters.

“US naval forces deployed maritime assets to closely monitor the situation. Ultimately, US Naval Forces Central Command assessed the circumstances of this event did not warrant further response,” 5th Fleet spokesman Tim Hawkins told Al-Monitor in a statement.