Report: Iran Seized Tanker in Retaliation for US Oil Seizures
The operators and charters of the Marshall Island registered tanker Advantage Sweet confirmed that the vessel has been directed into Iranian waters after it was boarded by Iranian troops from helicopters yesterday in the Gulf of Oman. While Iran is alleging that the tanker failed to stop after being involved in a fatal collision with a fishing boat in the Persian Gulf, reports are emerging tying the seizure to a little followed U.S. effort to seize an Iranian oil cargo aboard a Greek-managed tanker. At the same time, the U.S. Congress is pressing the Biden administration to increase seizures of Iranian oil and take a more active role in protecting the Middle East from the growing Iranian threat to maritime interests.
In February and March 2023, Reuters and the Associated Press reported that the United States was in court seeking to seize an oil cargo aboard another Marshall Islands registered tanker the Suez Rajan, managed by Empire Navigation. Court filings, AP reported, suggest that the tanker had approximately one million barrels of Iranian crude and was possibly heading to China. Families of the victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the United States filed in court in March seeking the seizure of the oil as part of their judgment against Iran for $3 billion in compensation.
Citing three people briefed on the current situation, the Financial Times is reporting today that “US authorities ordered a tanker of Iranian crude oil to redirect towards the US in recent days.” They are linking yesterday’s seizure as retaliation for the U.S.’s actions.
The Department of Justice refused to comment to the Financial Times with the newspaper reporting the position of the Suez Rajan is unclear. The 158,500 dwt tanker had been since June 2022 in an anchorage in Malaysia and recently off Singapore. The vessel’s AIS has been quiet showing the vessel is “for orders” except for a brief ping on April 21 that placed it off East Africa. The Financial Times quoting Spire Global suggests the tanker is heading south-west toward the Cape of Good Hope.
Iran TV is showing a brief video of the assault on the Advantage Sweet shot from a circling helicopter. Commandos are shown lowering themselves on ropes to the deck of the Advantage Sweet before the vessel was commandeered. Advantage Tankers sent a brief statement to Agence France Presse saying the vessel was being escorted to Iranian waters “on the basis of an international dispute.” They said there are 24 crewmembers aboard, Indian citizens, while Chevron which had chartered the vessel said it is working with the owners.
The reports of the retaliatory seizure came as Reuters reports U.S. senators have sent a letter to the White House calling for support and funding of the Treasure Department’s Office of Asset Forfeiture. The report cites a letter that Reuters reviewed that says the Biden administration policies have prevented seizures of Iranian oil shipments for more than a year. The seizures began in 2019 with Reuters saying nearly $228 million worth of Iranian oil has been seized.
Members of the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate yesterday also introduced a bill, the Maritime Architecture and Response to International Terrorism in the Middle East Act (MARITIME) that calls on the Department of Defense to develop a strategy with Middle East partners and allies to counter maritime threats from Iran and others. The legislation highlights the threats from manned and unmanned naval systems, such as the recently reported drone and missile assaults on merchant ships. The legislators are calling for the development of a strategy and to study the possibility of facilitating an increased maritime awareness and interdiction capabilities to expand on the existing operations in the region.
“The MARITIME Act will help the United States and its Middle East partners work together to counter sea-based threats from erratic actors like Iran, transnational criminals, and terrorist extremists,” said Congresswoman Ann Wagner of Missouri who serves as Vice Chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and is one of the sponsors of the bill. Companion legislation was also introduced in the U.S. Senate.