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Iran captures oil tanker ‘St Nikolas’ alias Suez Rajan in Gulf of Oman, the same ship US had taken from Iran a year ago for violating sanctions

The intruders were reportedly wearing military-style black uniforms and black masks

The Iranian navy on 11th January captured a US oil tanker St Nikolas in the Gulf of Oman containing Iraqi crude oil headed for Turkey. The move comes in retaliation to the seizure of the same vessel by the US almost a year ago.

145,000 metric tonnes of oil was loaded in the tanker at the Iraqi port of Basra and it was heading to Aliaga in western Turkey via the Suez Canal with a crew of 19 people including 18 Filipino nationals and a Greek national.

The incident occured near the Strait of Hormuz between Oman and Iran. According to the United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO), four to five armed persons boarded a vessel around 50 nautical miles east of Oman coast.

The intruders were reportedly wearing military-style black uniforms and black masks. According to British maritime security firm Ambrey, he AIS tracking system of the tanker was switched off as it headed towards the Iranian port of Bandar-e-Jask.

Turkish oil refiner Tupras (TUPRS.IS) reportedly said that communication with St Nokolas under Marshall Islands flag and owned by the Greek shipowner Empire Navigation was cut off around 6.30 on 11th January in Oman waters. The company confirmed that the cargo was bought from Iraqi marketer SOMO.

Semi-official Iranian news agency Fars cited a statement by the Navy which said, “After the theft of Iranian oil by the United States last year, St Nikolas tanker was seized by Iran’s Navy this morning with a judicial order … it is en route to Iranian ports.”

The US has responded calling the act as unlawful. Pentagon said that Iranian forces unlawfully boarded the St Nikolas and forced it to change course towards the Iranian territorial waters.

White House national security spokesperson John Kirby said, “No justification whatsoever to seize it, none whatsoever. They need to let it go.”

Meanwhile the US Navy has said that Iran’s actions are contrary to international law and threaten maritime security and stability.

In 2023, the US seized St Nikolas, then called Suez Rajan, in a sanctions enforcement operation. Iran had threatened with a reciprocative move back then.

The Suez Rajan, now St Nikolas, was carrying over 980,000 barrels of Iranian crude oil in 2023 when it was seized and the oil was confiscated by the US. Washington had alleged that the Revolutionary Guards was trying to send contraband Iranian oil to China violating US sanctions.

This development comes amid the ongoing tensions in the Red Sea where Yemen’s Houthis have attacked commercial vessels to show solidarity with Palestinian terrorist group Hamas against Israel. Reports say these incidents have largely been occuring on the Bab al-Mandab Strait to the southwest of the Arabian Peninsula.

Drones and missiles were launched by the Houthis on the vessles in the Red Sea on 9th January drawing condemnation from the US and UK.

Now, US and UK with support from Australia, Bahrain, Canada and Netherlands have conducted strikes against a dozen Houthi targets in Yemen in response to Houthi attacks on international maritime vessels in Red Sea.

Ayodhra Ram Mandir special coverage by OpIndia

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OpIndia Staff
OpIndia Staffhttps://www.opindia.com
Staff reporter at OpIndia

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