Iranian state TV says Revolutionary Guards forces have seized a foreign tanker with 12 crew accused of smuggling oil.
Thursday’s report says the tanker was taking fuel from Iranian smugglers to foreign customers and was intercepted south of Iran’s Larak Island in the strait of Hormuz, a vital route for oil shipping.
The TV did not identify the tanker or say which country the crew were from, but said it was intercepted on Sunday after issuing a distress call.
“A foreign vessel smuggling one million litres of fuel in the Larak Island of the Persian Gulf has been seized,” the station said. “The vessel that Iran towed to its waters after receiving a distress call, was later seized with the order from the court as we found out that it was smuggling fuel.”
US officials have previously expressed suspicion that a Panamanian-flagged oil tanker MT Riah that stopped transmitting its location at the weekend had been seized in Iranian territorial waters.
The seizure of the as yet unnamed tanker by Iran also follows the seizure of an Iranian oil tanker, Grace 1, by Royal Marines. The UK has said the oil was bound for Iran’s close ally Syria, in breach of an EU embargo.
A UK spokeswoman said it was seeking further information on the reports. “We continue to urge the Iranian authorities to de-escalate the situation in the region,” the spokeswoman said. “We are continuously monitoring the security situation there and are committed to maintaining freedom of navigation, in accordance with international law.”
Iran’s unravelling nuclear deal with world powers has led to increased tensions in the Gulf region after the US pulled out last year and reimposed economic sanctions. In the last months there have been six unattributed attacks on Gulf shipping as well as an attempt to intercept a British ship in the Gulf a fortnight ago.
The US has sent advanced fighter jets and thousands of extra troops into the Middle East while attacks on oil tankers and the shooting down of a US military surveillance drone by Iran have added to the fears of an armed conflict breaking out.
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