Iran seizes another ship for 'fuel smuggling'
Iranian forces seized a ship in the Persian Gulf suspected of carrying smuggled fuel, state media said yesterday.
State TV and the semi-official Fars news agency reported that seven crew members were detained when the ship was seized late Wednesday carrying 700,000 litres of "smuggled fuel" from Iran.
Latest reports yesterday say the ship is an Iraqi vessel.
It is the Revolutionary Guard's third seizure of a vessel in recent weeks and the latest show of strength by the paramilitary force amid a spike in regional tensions.
It was reported the ship was seized near Farsi Island, where a Revolutionary Guard naval base is located. The island sits in the Persian Gulf between Saudi Arabia and Iran, north of the Strait of Hormuz.
"This foreign vessel had received the fuel from other ships and was transferring it to Persian Gulf Arab states," said General Ramazan Zirahi, a Guard commander.
It was not clear why a ship carrying Iranian fuel would transfer its cargo to energy- exporting Gulf states, but smuggling has been a source of concern in Iran.
Iranian media reported last month that some eight million litres of government-subsidised fuel are smuggled daily to countries where prices are higher.
The new claims would make this the third vessel seized by the Guard in the past two weeks, and the second accused of smuggling fuel.
The US Fifth Fleet, based in Bahrain, said it did not have information to confirm the reports. Maritime tracking experts also said they did not have any immediate information about the incident.
Maritime intelligence firm Dryad Global said that, if confirmed, this is likely to be "another relatively low-key interception designed to signal to the West that Iran maintains its influence" in the Persian Gulf.
Tensions in the Persian Gulf have escalated recently, with the US boosting its military presence in the region, and six oil tankers being targeted in unclaimed acts of sabotage that the US blames on Iran. Iran has denied involvement.
In June, Iran shot down an American drone in the Strait of Hormuz. President Donald Trump came close to retaliating, but called off an air-strike at the last moment. Washington has since claimed that a US warship downed an Iranian drone in the strait. Iran denies losing any aircraft in the area.
Maritime security in the region was further jolted on July 18, when Iranian Revolutionary Guard naval forces seized a UAE-based oil tanker, for allegedly smuggling some 1 million litres of fuel.
The following day, the Guard seized a British-flagged vessel in the Gulf in possible retaliation for the seizure of an Iranian oil tanker in a British Navy operation off Gibraltar.