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Iran Seizes UAE Vessel in "Tit-for-Tat" Over Death of Two Fishermen

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Iranian IRGC attack boats (file image courtesy state media)

By The Maritime Executive 08-20-2020 09:19:00

On Thursday, Iran's foreign ministry said that it has seized an unidentified UAE-flagged vessel in possible retaliation for the deaths of two Iranian fishermen, who were killed by UAE coast guard forces in a recent enforcement action. 

According to the UAE's state-run WAM media outlet, eight Iranian fishing vessels crossed over into UAE waters on Monday. Emirati forces responded and applied their "rules of engagement," WAM reported. 

"On Monday, an Emirati ship was seized by the border guards of Iran and its crew were detained due to illegal traffic in our country's waters. On the same day, UAE guards shot dead two Iranian fishermen and seized a boat," the ministry said in a statement to state media. "The UAE has expressed regret for the incident and in a letter on Wednesday announced its readiness to pay compensation."

Iran's foreign ministry summoned the UAE ambassador to protest the incident, and it demanded the release of the remaining fishermen and the detained vessel. "The legal procedure for delivering the bodies of those killed is underway," the ministry said.

The move follows just days after the UAE re-established normal diplomatic relations with Israel, Iran's regional nemesis. However, security consultancy Dryad Global advised that the competing maritime interdictions were likely unrelated. 

"There is perhaps a willingness in the international community to assume that any disagreement between the UAE and Iran at this time is a response to the UAE’s normalizing of its relations with Israel. Whilst it is undoubtedly true that this move will heighten tensions between Iran and the UAE, in this instance there is not the indication that Iran has purposely moved in a manner which is intended to send a diplomatic message," Dryad wrote. "Iran’s actions are best viewed through the ‘tit for tat’ lens . . . In this instance, it is likely that the Iranian desire to respond was provoked by the death of the [fishermen]."

Dryad Global advised that there is no extra risk to shipping in the Strait of Hormuz and the Gulf of Oman stemming from this incident, beyond the existing potential for Iranian action against U.S. cargoes and the shipowners who recently transferred Iranian-origin cargoes to the United States.