An IRGC Navy speedboat in the Persian Gulf. FILE PHOTO

Pirates And Commandos Feature In Iranian Tales Of Oil Seizure At Sea

Friday, 11/05/2021
Maryam Sinaiee

British Iranian journalist and political analyst

Ahmad Alamolhoda, the Friday prayer leader in Mashhad gave a colorful account to worshippers of an alleged US attempt to "steal" Iranian oil in the Sea of Oman.

In his Friday sermon, Alamolhoda, who is President Ebrahim Raisi's father-in-law, said US “pirates” had tried to hijack an Iranian tanker and its cargo, but Iranian forces had not only freed the Iranian vessel but had also “confiscated the pirate tanker” to which the oil had been transferred.

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) have released a video of the incident, October 25, showing Iranian helicopters and naval speed boats taking over an oil tanker and guiding it into Iranian waters.

The IRGC claimed that the US had seized a tanker carrying Iranian oil, transferred its oil to a second tanker, but were thwarted when Iranian commandos landed, took control of the second tanker, and sailed it back to Iran. The IRGC said the US navy deployed helicopters and warships but gave up the chase.

Yet another version circulating in state media is that pirates were trying to steal the oil and the US Navy was giving them cover.

Vietnam said Thursday it was in talks with Iranian foreign ministry officials over the status of the crew of the Vietnam-flagged Sothys. American officials have claimed that the whole incident amounted to Iran seizing a Vietnamese-flagged oil tanker with US naval forces, who say they are present to escort ships through the Straits of Hormuz, just “monitoring” the situation. Around a fifth of the world’s seaborne oil passes through Hormuz.

According to TankerTrackers, Sothys has no US affiliation and in the incident on 24-25 October, just happened to sail alongside a US navy patrol before being directed to Iran by the IRGC. TankerTrackers said Sothys was returning after being denied entry by China into Longkou in July or August and was carrying oil that it had taken aboard in the anchorage of Sohar, Oman, in June.

TankerTrackers said Thursday that the Sothys had now transferred 700,000 barrels of crude to an Iranian tanker.

Iran has been shipping oil to Asian destinations despite the US threat since 2018 to take punitive action against any buyers under its ‘maximum pressure’ sanctions. China, the main importer of Iranian oil, uses various means to disguise both the origins of shipments and its payment methods, and has on occasion turned away arrivals of Iranian oil as way of placating Washington.

Much of the Iranian media celebrated Iran’s reaction to October’s alleged piracy as a US humiliation. The incident was reported on the eve of the anniversary of the Iranian students' seizure of the US embassy in Tehran on November 4 1979, celebrated as National Student Day.

On August 3 Reuters quoted a claim from three “maritime security forces” that “Iranian-backed forces” had seized a tanker off the coast of the United Arab Emirates. The vessel, owned by a company based in Dubai, was identified as the Panama-registered Asphalt Princess.

On August 4, the United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO), the Royal Navy’s information service for shipping, reported that a “potential hijack incident” was “complete,” suggesting boarders had left the tanker. Iran denied any involvement as a spokesman criticized "a kind of psychological warfare…setting the stage for new bouts of adventurism.”

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