Mystery as UAE oil tanker stops off Iran coast in Strait of Hormuz
A United Arab Emirates oil tanker travelling through the Strait of Hormuz stopped in Iranian waters and switched off its transponder more than three days ago, according to shipping tracking data, amid heightened tensions over incidents involving commercial vessels in the Gulf.
The Panama-flagged Riah stopped transmitting its position late on Saturday and was last shown off the coast of Iran's Qeshm island in the Strait of Hormuz.
It was unclear yesterday what had happened to the tanker, which was on its way to Sharjah in the UAE before diverting sharply toward Iranian waters and slowing to a halt, tracking data showed.
A UAE government spokesman would not comment.
Since May, at least six vessels have been attacked near the strait, the world's most important oil chokepoint, in incidents the United States has blamed on Iran. Britain said last week Iranian naval forces attempted to block a British oil tanker in the strait but were repelled by a navy frigate escorting the ship.
Iran has denied involvement in the incidents but also threatened to retaliate against British shipping interests after an Iranian oil tanker was seized off the coast of Gibraltar earlier this month.
The vessel, Grace 1, was carrying 2.1 million barrels of light crude oil and was suspected of seeking to travel to Syria in violation of European Union sanctions.
"The vicious British government committed piracy and attacked our ship," Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said in a speech yesterday. Iran "will not leave such acts without a response," he warned.
British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said Britain would help facilitate the Grace 1's release if Iran could provide guarantees the ship's cargo would not go to Syria. Iran has said it is not subject to EU sanctions.
The confrontation comes as Europe struggles to keep Iran in the nuclear deal it struck with world powers in 2015, following a US withdrawal from the pact last year.
The agreement curbed Iran's nuclear activities in exchange for major sanctions relief, including from the US.
The Trump administration violated the accord and reimposed sanctions on Iran last autumn, prompting Tehran to scale back its own commitments under the deal, Iranian officials said. (© The Washington Post)