Iran declares it is behind seizure of ‘US crude oil tanker’ in the Gulf of Oman after five ‘military men’ boarded vessel amid mounting Middle East tensions after UK warship shot down Houthi rebel rockets

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Written By Maya Cantina
  • UKMTO said the ship was boarded in waters between Oman and Iran 

An oil tanker has been boarded by ‘six military men’ in the Gulf of Oman this morning, according to reports from naval organisations.

Details remained unclear in what was apparently the latest seizure of a vessel in the tense Middle East waterways, which came the day after UK and US warships shot down rockets fired by the Iran-backed Houthi rebels in the Red Sea.

The British military’s United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations, which provides warnings to sailors in the Middle East, said the incident began early in the morning.

It said the boarding of the ship – named as the St. Nikolas oil and chemical tanker – occurred in waters between Oman and Iran, 50 nautical miles east of Oman’s Sohar.

The area is transited by ships coming in and out of the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow mouth of the Persian Gulf through which a fifth of all oil traded passes.

The boarding of the ship – named as the St. Nikolas oil and chemical tanker (pictured, file photo)- occurred in waters between Oman and Iran , 50 nautical miles east of Oman’s Sohar, according to the British military’s United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations

The British military's United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations said the incident began early in the morning, in waters between Oman and Iran, 50 nautical miles east of Oman's Sohar

The British military’s United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations said the incident began early in the morning, in waters between Oman and Iran, 50 nautical miles east of Oman’s Sohar

The Malta-flagged ship was once known as the Suez Rajan and had been involved in a yearlong dispute that ultimately saw the US Justice Department seize 1 million barrels of Iranian crude oil on it. 

The UK military-run UKMTO described receiving a report from the ship’s security manager of hearing ‘unknown voices over the phone’ alongside with the ship’s captain. It said that further efforts to contact the ship had failed.

UKMTO said that it was unable to make further contact with the vessel at this time and that authorities were investigating the incident. 

The private intelligence firm Ambrey said that ‘six military men’ boarded the ship, which it identified as the oil tanker St. Nikolas. 

It said that the men had covered the surveillance cameras as they boarded.

The US Navy’s 5th Fleet, which patrols the Mideast, did not immediately respond to a request for comment from the Associated Press over the incident.

Iran and Oman did not immediately acknowledge the boarding.

Since the collapse of Iran’s nuclear deal, waters around the strait have seen a series of ship seizures by Iran, as well as assaults targeting shipping that the Navy has blamed on Tehran. 

Iran and the Navy also have had a series of tense encounters in the waterway, though recent attention has been focused on the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels of Yemen attacking ships in the Red Sea amid Israel’s war on Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

The United States and its allies also have been seizing Iranian oil cargoes since 2019.

That has led to a series of attacks in the Mideast attributed to the Islamic Republic, as well as ship seizures by Iranian military and paramilitary forces that threaten global shipping.

The St. Nikolas had earlier been named the Suez Rajan, associated with the the Greek shipping company Empire Navigation. 

Attention began focusing on the Suez Rajan in February 2022, when the group United Against Nuclear Iran said it suspected the tanker carried oil from Iran’s Khargh Island, its main oil distribution terminal in the Persian Gulf. 

Satellite photos and shipping data analysed at the time by the the Associated Press supported the allegation.

For months, the ship sat in the South China Sea off the northeast coast of Singapore before suddenly sailing for the Texas coast without explanation. 

The Malta-flagged ship was once known as the Suez Rajan and had been involved in a yearlong dispute that ultimately saw the US Justice Department seize 1 million barrels of Iranian crude oil on it

The Malta-flagged ship was once known as the Suez Rajan and had been involved in a yearlong dispute that ultimately saw the US Justice Department seize 1 million barrels of Iranian crude oil on it

The vessel discharged its cargo to another tanker in August, which released its oil in Houston as part of a Justice Department order.

In September, Empire Navigation pleaded guilty to smuggling sanctioned Iranian crude oil and agreed to pay a $2.4 million fine over a case involving the tanker Suez Rajan, which carried some 1 million barrels of oil.

Thursday’s seizure comes amid high tensions in the seas of the Middle East, and after British and US warships intercepted Houthi missiles.

Yemen’s Houthi rebel group – an Iranian backed militia – has been pummelling merchant ships in the Red Sea for months, forcing a coalition of nations including the UK and USA to deploy warships to protect them.

The rebels say their assaults are aimed at stopping Israel’s war on Hamas in the Gaza Strip. But their targets are increasingly random, raising the risk of a US retaliatory strike on Yemen.

The attacks are disrupting maritime trade through the Suez canal – a crucial route linking Europe with Asia and the Middle East – leading to delays and price rises for consumers.

Britain’s Defence Secretary Grant Shapps warned the Houthis to end their attacks on Wednesday after HMS Diamond, a £1billion Type 45 destroyer known as the jewel of the Royal Navy, shot down the targets with a barrage of Sea Viper missiles.

US fighter jets were also involved in the operation.

Dramatic pictures showed the moment the British Destroyer shot down the huge wave of missiles and drones fired by the rebels. 

Personnel onboard HMS Diamond shoot down drones fired by Iranian-backed Houthi rebels

Personnel onboard HMS Diamond shoot down drones fired by Iranian-backed Houthi rebels

Shapps told Sky News there was ‘no doubt’ Tehran was involved and providing weapons and intelligence. 

‘Enough is enough,’ he said. ‘We must be clear with the Houthis that this has to stop and that is my simple message to them today: Watch this space’.

He also told reporters: ‘My understanding is that both the ship itself potentially was targeted … but also that there’s a generalised attack on all shipping (in the region).’

Shapps called the Houthi attack ‘the largest to date’ and said the UK had taken action to ‘protect innocent lives and the global economy’. He said none of HMS Diamond’s crew had been injured. 

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