DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – Gunmen boarded a Hong Kong-flagged tanker Tuesday off the Iranian coast near the important Strait of Hormuz, holding the ship for a short time before releasing it amid rising tensions between Tehran and the United States, authorities said.
No one immediately claimed responsibility for the confiscation, despite the suspicion of the Iranian paramilitary Revolutionary Guards. Iranian officials and state media did not immediately recognize the incident and the 5th US Navy fleet based in Bahrain did not respond to requests for comment.
The incident came after a private maritime intelligence company warned of suspicious incidents in recent days near the strait, where a fifth of all oil was traded. Previous oil tankers had been targeted during tensions.
The incident occurred near the coast of Ras al-Kuh, Iran. The British Maritime Trade Operations Organization said in a warning that the ship “had been boarded by gunmen while it was at anchor.”
“All ships in the vicinity must remain vigilant and report any incidents,” the warning said, urging the ship to “be careful.”
The US organization later said the ship had been released and was being carried out under the control of its captain, without elaborating.
Dryad Global, a private maritime intelligence company that issued the first warning about a suspicious incident, identified the ship as a Hong Kong-flagged SC Taipei headed for Saudi Arabia. It said the 22 crew members who were boarded were Chinese. That doesn’t say how he knew that information.
The SC Taipei satellite tracking beacon shows it off the coast of Iran around the warning, according to data from the MarineTraffic.com website.
The ship owner could not be contacted immediately, even though the United Nations database registered a forwarding address for the owner related to Shanghai-based Aoxing Ship Management. In March, the US State Department approved the Aoxing Ship Management for “consciously engaging in significant transactions for the purchase, acquisition, sale, transportation or marketing of petrochemical products from Iran” despite American sanctions.
Iranian territory is close to the turbulent provinces of Sistan and Baluchistan in the country, where Islamic militant attacks have occurred in the past. However, they were not known to have attacked shipping. The ship’s tracking data shows that gunmen took the ship to Bandar Jask, which was carried out by the Guard last year when taking crew members from a Norwegian oil tanker hit by an explosion blamed by the U.S. over the Iranian mine.
The quick release of the ship showed that Iran only realized after the fact that they had captured a Chinese ship, not a Western ship as in the previous incident. Iran is increasingly relying on China amid US sanctions over its nuclear program.
“At a time when China is still buying Iranian oil, and Iran has few international friends, such a move would be very irregular and would not advance Iran’s interests,” Dryad Global said.
Even as they face the same invisible enemy in the coronavirus pandemic, Iran and the United States remain locked in a campaign of retaliatory pressure that now sees the outbreak as the latest battleground.
Online videos and Iranian media reports show Iran has deployed Fajr-5 missile batteries on the beaches along the Strait of Hormuz.
Dryad Global previously reported maritime incidents in and around the strait. On March 27, two ships with raised stairs approached the U.S. flagged container ship, while the Revolutionary Guards ship approached the ship on April 2, the company said.
“The detention of a ship in the Strait of Hormuz will match Iran’s previous intentions and capabilities … and will provide a proper ‘opening opportunity’ in Iran’s efforts to release the pressure facing the country at this time,” Dryad said late Tuesday.
Follow Jon Gambrell on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jongambrellAP.
to request modification Contact us at Here or [email protected]