Iran seizes foreign tanker in the Gulf, detains sailors, state TV says

Key Points
  • Iran has seized a foreign tanker in the Gulf carrying 700,000 liters of fuel, Iranian state TV said Sunday, citing the country's Islamic Revolutionary Guards.
  • Seven sailors on board have also been detained.
  • Iran accuses the tanker of smuggling fuel to Arab states.
A picture taken on July 21, 2019, shows Iranian Revolutionary Guards patrolling around the British-flagged tanker Stena Impero as it's anchored off the Iranian port city of Bandar Abbas.
Hasan Shirvani | AFP | Getty Images

DUBAI — Iran has seized a foreign tanker in the Gulf carrying 700,000 liters of fuel, Iranian state TV said Sunday, citing the country's Revolutionary Guards.

Seven sailors on board have also been detained, according to Revolutionary Guard commander Ramezan Zirahi, who was quoted by Al Mayadeen TV.

"The IRGC's naval forces have seized a foreign oil tanker in the Persian Gulf that was smuggling fuel for some Arab countries," state TV quoted Zirahi as saying.

"It carried 700,000 liters of fuel. Seven sailors onboard of the tanker, who are from different nationalities, were detained." The tanker's origin is unclear. The U.S. Navy's Fifth Fleet in Bahrain said it did not have sufficient information to confirm the reports.

On July 19, Iranian commandos seized a British-flagged tanker, the Stena Impero, in the Strait of Hormuz on grounds of alleged maritime violations. The U.K. government has called the seizure illegal. The incident followed British forces capturing an Iranian tanker near Gibraltar, which it accused of violating sanctions on Syria.

Last week a second British warship arrived in the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow waterway for 30% of the world's seaborne oil, to protect British tankers. U.K. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has urged Iran to "come out of the dark" and release the Stena Impero.

Rising risks and a dying nuclear deal

The latest tanker seizure comes a day after Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif announced Tehran would make a third move to roll back its commitments to the 2015 Iranian nuclear deal, signed under the Obama administration to lift economic sanctions on Iran in exchange for controls on its nuclear program.

"The third step in reducing commitments to (the nuclear deal) will be implemented in the current situation," Zarif said Sunday, without elaborating.

Iran in July said it had moved to increase its stockpiles of uranium beyond the deal's internationally-agreed limits and enrich uranium beyond the civilian energy level of 3.67%, taking it further along the technical path toward being able to produce a nuclear bomb.

Tensions between Iran and the U.S. and fears of a new war in the Middle East have been rising since the Trump administration withdrew from the 2015 accord and re-imposed sweeping sanctions on Iran in an attempt to push it into a more stringent deal involving broader security concessions.

In May and June, six foreign tankers were hit in alleged sabotage attacks that the U.S. government has blamed on Iranian forces, a charge Tehran denies. Iran on June 20 shot down a U.S. surveillance drone it says was flying over its territory, prompting a planned U.S. military strike on Iranian military targets that President Trump says he called off with ten minutes to spare.

Most analysts maintain war in the Persian Gulf remains unlikely, but fear that with tensions so high and no diplomatic channel of communication, a mere miscalculation could set off a serious conflict.

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