Oil tanker Suez Rajan

Iran Seizes Oil Tanker In Retaliation For Earlier US Confiscation

Thursday, 01/11/2024
Babak Taghvaee

Contributor

Iran’s state media on Friday reported the seizure of an oil tanker by the Iranian Navy in the Sea of Oman, amid high tensions and Houthi attacks in the Red Sea.

According to their claims, the oiler had previously been seized alongside a large cargo of Iranian crude oil by the US government in 2023 and Friday’s seizure by Iran was a retaliatory act.

According to the official statement of the Iranian Navy, the seizure was carried out following a court order and the approval of the Ports and Shipping Organization in retaliation for “oil theft” by the United States. State media reports also said the oil tanker was being transferred to Iranian ports to be handed over to the judicial authorities.

In the early morning of January 11, the crew of an oil tanker named M/T ST Nikolas, flying the Marshall Islands flag and managed by Greek personnel, issued a distress signal in an area 50 nautical miles east of Sohar, Oman. They reported that four to five unauthorized individuals, armed and wearing black uniforms and masks, had boarded their vessel at around 03:30 UTC.

The Greek company, Empire Navigation, which owns the vessel, subsequently confirmed that it was carrying a cargo of 145,000 metric tons of oil and had a crew of 19 individuals (comprising 18 Filipino nationals and one Greek). The vessel was en route from Basra, Iraq, to Aliaga, Turkey.

Saint Nikolas, the oil tanker that was seized by the Iranian Navy today, has a checkered history that played a pivotal role in its capture. This vessel was previously seized by the US in April 2023 when it was transporting 977,000 barrels of Iranian crude oil that was subject to sanctions. At that time, the ship was known as Suez Rajan and was under the ownership of the same company that currently owns it. To secure its release, the owner paid a fine of $2.46 million USD after several months of legal proceedings.

Subsequently, following a US federal court order, the sanctioned Iranian crude oil that had been offloaded from the vessel was sold for a total of $83.4 million USD, following extensive efforts by the US Government to locate a buyer. These efforts incurred additional costs of over $8.85 million USD, resulting in approximately $74.7 million in net proceeds from the oil sale.

Upon its release and return to Greece, the vessel was renamed Saint Nikolas and resumed its operations, primarily carrying petrochemical products worldwide. However, it chose to avoid engaging in any services related to Iran.

To avoid sale of the oil shipment of the Suez Rajan by the US Government, the Iranian regime did its best by means of using the IRGC Navy to seize various commercial ships in Omas Sea, however the pressures didn't work, and Iran's crude oil was finally sold by the US in 2023.

Friday's seizure of the Suez Rajan seems to be the latest attempt of the Iranian regime to compensate for the loss of over $90 million USD of crude oil of the same ship that was sold by the US in 2023. Iran’s state media claim that the oiler was carrying crude purchased by the US; however, vessel tracking websites show its destination was a port in Turkey. It is not known whether that port call for Turkey was a diversion to hide the real destination of the oil tanker.

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