Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) seized two foreign-flagged oil tankers allegedly smuggling more than 1.5 million litres of fuel in the Persian Gulf, Anadolu Agency reports.
The tankers with Panama and Tanzania flags were held by IRGC Navy, Iranian media quoted Admiral Mohammad-Sharif Shirali, deputy Commander of the IRGC Navy’s Third Naval Zone, as saying.
He said the 37-member crew on board the two vessels were handed to judicial authorities for necessary legal procedures.
The official, providing details of the operation, said the IRGC Navy stationed in Mahshahr Port in southern Khuzestan province had, for the past two days, closely monitored the two foreign oil rankers and eventually seized them on judicial orders.
Iranian naval forces have, on several occasions in recent years, seized foreign-flagged vessels in the Persian Gulf for alleged smuggling of fuel or violation of maritime rules.
In July, a Bahamas-flagged oil tanker, “Richmond Voyager”, was seized after it allegedly ran into an Iranian vessel in the Sea of Oman in southern Hormozgan province.
After the incident, the US Navy issued a statement saying it sent a guided-missile destroyer, “USS McFaul”, in response to a distress call from the Bahamas-flagged tanker after Iranian authorities asked the tanker to stop and fired shots at it.
The incident came less than two months after IRGC seized a Panama-flagged tanker in the Strait of Hormuz, calling it a “violator”.
Before that, a Marshal Island-flagged tanker was held by the Iranian army and directed to the coastal waters of Iran in the Sea of Oman, following an encounter with an Iranian vessel.
Pertinently, these incidents come amid heightened tensions between Iran and the US after the Pentagon announced the deployment of amphibious warships and a Marine expeditionary group to the Persian Gulf to secure its shipping lanes.
Last month, amid tensions, the IRGC Navy released footage of an encounter between its speedboats and a US helicopter carrier in the Strait of Hormuz.
It came exactly a year after the IRGC towed away an unmanned US vessel in the Persian Gulf, saying it was done to “ensure the safety of shipping lanes”.