Iran seizes 2 Greek tankers in Arabian Gulf as tensions rise
Agencies | Tehran
The Daily Tribune – www.newsofbahrain.com
Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard seized two Greek oil tankers on Friday in helicopter-launched raids in the Arabian Gulf, officials said. The action appeared to be retaliation for Athens’ assistance in the US seizure of crude oil from an Iranian-flagged tanker this week in the Mediterranean Sea over violating Washington’s sanctions on the Islamic Republic.
The raid marks the first major incident at sea in months as tensions remain high between Iran and the West over its tattered nuclear deal with world powers. As Tehran enriches more uranium, closer to weapons-grade levels than ever before, worries mount that negotiators won’t find a way back to the accord — raising the risk of a wider war.
The Guard issued a statement announcing the seizures, accusing the tankers of unspecified violations. Nour News, a website close to Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, just a short time earlier warned that Tehran planned to take “punitive action” over Greece assisting the US in seizing oil days earlier from the Iranian-flagged tanker Lana.
Greece’s Foreign Ministry said it made a strong demarche to the Iranian ambassador in Athens over the “violent taking over of two Greek-flagged ships” in the Arabian Gulf. “These acts effectively amount to acts of piracy,” a ministry statement said.
The ministry called for the immediate release of the vessels and their crews, warning the seizure would have “particularly negative consequences” in bilateral relations and in Iran’s relations with the European Union, of which Greece is a member.
An Iranian helicopter landed on the Greek-flagged Delta Poseidon in international waters, some 22 nautical miles off the coast of Iran, the ministry said.
“Armed men then took the crew captive,” it said, adding that two Greek nationals were among the crew.
“A similar incident has been reported on another Greek-flagged vessel, that was carrying seven Greek citizens, close to the coast of Iran,” the ministry said.
A Greek official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss details of the attack with a journalist, identified the second ship as the Prudent Warrior. Its manager, Polembros Shipping in Greece, earlier said the company was “cooperating with the authorities and making every possible effort to address the situation effectively”.
Greek officials did not identify the nationalities of the other crew onboard the vessels.
Both vessels had come from Iraq’s Basra oil terminal, loaded with crude, according to tracking data from MarineTraffic.com.
A US defence official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters, said it appeared the two ships had come close to — but not into — Iranian territorial waters. After the hijacking, they drifted into Iranian waters. The ships also had turned off their tracking devices, another red flag, the official said. However, neither had issued a mayday or a call for help, the official said.
Iran last year also seized and held a South Korean-flagged tanker for months amid a dispute over billions of dollars of frozen assets Seoul holds.
“This incident is assessed to be a retaliatory action in line with a history of Iranian forces detaining vessels in a tit-for-tat manner,” maritime intelligence firm Dryad Global warned. “As a result, Greek-flagged vessels operating within the vicinity of Iran in the Arabian Gulf and Gulf of Oman are currently assessed to be at a heightened risk of interception and it is advised to avoid this area until further notice.”
Underlining that threat, Iran’s semiofficial Tasnim news agency warned in a tweet: “There are still 17 other Greek ships in the Arabian Gulf that could be seized.”