Iraqi oil ministry denies ownership of ‘foreign tanker’ seized by Iran

Iraq’s oil ministry said on Sunday that it had no connection with an oil tanker that was reportedly seized by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, which claimed it had been smuggling fuel.

“The ministry does not export diesel to the international market,” the ministry said in a statement, released on Iraq’s state news agency.

The oil ministry added that Iraq’s relevant authorities are working to gather information about the seized vessel.

Iran’s state media reported on Sunday that ‘a foreign oil tanker’ had been seized in the Gulf that was smuggling fuel and that the country had detained seven crewmen.

The vessel was intercepted near Iran’s Farsi Island in the Gulf, Iran’s semi-official Fars news agency said. The elite Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) has a navy base on Farsi island which is located north of the Strait of Hormuz.

Two port officials told Reuters that initial information showed that the seized vessel was owned by a private shipping company which is owned by an Iraqi private trader.

Fars and Lebanon’s al-Mayadeen TV station reported that the tanker was seized on Wednesday.

“Some of the IRGC’s naval forces have seized a foreign oil tanker in the Persian Gulf that was smuggling fuel for some Arab countries,” Press TV reported, without elaborating.

“It carried 700,000 litres of fuel. Seven sailors on-board the tanker, who are from different nationalities, were detained,” the channel TV quoted a commander of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as saying.

The vessel was seized near Farsi Island in the western part of the Arabian Gulf, about 640 kilometres from the Strait of Hormuz, the semi-official Iranian Students’ News Agency said, citing the IRGC.

There was no confirmation of the seizure outside of Iran and no identification of what country the tanker belonged to. A spokesman for the US Navy’s Bahrain-based Fifth Fleet said they had no information to confirm the media reports.

Last month, Iran seized a British tanker in the strait for alleged marine violations and allowed a second one to proceed after issuing a warning.

Tensions have flared in the Gulf region as Iran resists US sanctions intended to halt its vital oil exports. The seizure of the British tanker, the Stena Impero, came two weeks after British forces seized an Iranian tanker carrying more than 2 million barrels of oil off the coast of Gibraltar. Britain said the ship was carrying fuel to Syria in violation of EU sanctions.

Another oil tanker, the Panama-flagged MT Riah, was captured by the elite Iranian force last month for “smuggling fuel to other countries”.

Senior US leaders expressed confidence that they will be able to convince allies to help protect shipping in the Persian Gulf area against Iranian threats, but they provided no new details on Sunday on which nations may be willing to participate.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper says he has gotten a good response from allies and some announcements could be expected soon. And Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told reporters that a lot of conversations are taking place. He said that he was “very confident” that Washington will be able to build a maritime coalition in the Gulf.

But after meeting with their Australian counterparts here, the two US leaders came away with no commitment for help. Australian Defense Minister Linda Reynolds said her country is giving the US request serious consideration but no decision has been made.

Called “Operation Sentinel,” the plan has thus far attracted few commitments from other nations.

Angered by intensified US sanctions designed to strangle its vital oil trade and the failure of Britain and European parties to the agreement to salvage the pact, Tehran has decreased its commitments to the nuclear deal.

Iran also has threatened to block all exports through the Strait, if countries heed US calls to stop buying Iranian oil. A fifth of global oil consumption passes through the Strait from Middle East crude producers to major markets.

European parties to the deal – Britain, France and Germany – have instead appealed for diplomatic moves to defuse the crisis and have been trying to salvage the pact by exploring ways to shield Iran’s economy from US sanctions.

Tehran has called on them to accelerate their efforts or it will further decrease its commitments to the agreement.


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