TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iranian forces seized a ship in the Persian Gulf suspected of carrying smuggled fuel,
state media reported Sunday, marking the Revolutionary Guard’s third seizure of a vessel in recent weeks
and the latest show of strength by the paramilitary force amid a spike in regional tensions.
State TV and the semi-official Fars news agency reported that seven crew members were detained when the
ship was seized late Wednesday carrying 700,000 liters (185,000 gallons) of "smuggled fuel"
from Iran. The local reports did not provide further details on the vessel or the nationality of the
The news agency reported the ship was seized near Farsi Island, where a Revolutionary Guard naval base is
located. The island sits in the Persian Gulf between Saudi Arabia and Iran, north of the Strait of
Guard commander Gen. Ramazan Zirahi was quoted by Iran’s state TV saying the ship was seized in Iranian
territorial waters and had been transporting diesel fuel. State TV and other local media also ran
footage of the ship, but did not show any flag or identifying marker for the vessel.
"This foreign vessel had received the fuel from other ships and was transferring it to Persian Gulf
Arab states," Zirahi said in comments carried by Fars new agency.
It was not immediately clear why a ship carrying Iranian fuel would transfer its cargo to energy
exporting Gulf states, but smuggling has been a source of concern in Iran. Iranian media reported last
month that some 8 million liters of government-subsidized Iranian fuel are smuggled daily to other
countries where prices are much higher.
The new claims would make this the third vessel seized by the Guard in the past two weeks, and the second
accused of smuggling fuel.
The U.S. Fifth Fleet, based in Bahrain, said it did not have information to confirm the reports. Maritime
tracking experts also said they did not have any immediate information about the incident or details on
Maritime intelligence firm Dryad Global said that, if confirmed, this is likely to be "another
relatively low key interception designed to signal to the West that Iran maintains the capability and
intent to exercise its influence" in the Persian Gulf.
Tensions in the Persian Gulf have escalated recently, with the United States boosting its military
presence in the region and six oil tankers targeted in the Gulf of Oman in unclaimed acts of sabotage
that the U.S. blames on Iran. Iran has denied any involvement in those attacks.
In June, Iran shot down an American surveillance drone in the Strait of Hormuz. President Donald Trump
came close to retaliating, but called off an airstrike at the last moment. Washington has since claimed
that a U.S. warship downed an Iranian drone in the strait. Iran denies losing any aircraft in the area.
Maritime security in the region was further jolted in mid-July, when Iranian Revolutionary Guard naval
forces confirmed they’d seized a United Arab Emirates-based oil tanker, the Panamanian-flagged MT Riah,
for allegedly smuggling some 1 million liters (264,000 gallons) of fuel from Iranian smugglers to
Also in July, the Guard seized a British-flagged vessel near the Persian Gulf in the Strait of Hormuz, in
what some Iranian officials suggested was retaliation for the seizure of an Iranian oil tanker in a
British Royal Navy operation off Gibraltar, near Spain.
The U.K. says the Iranian oil tanker was suspected of violating European Union sanctions on oil shipments
to Syria. Iran denies the ship was bound for Syria but has not disclosed its destination. Officials in
Spain initially said the tanker was seized upon request from the United States.
The current tensions stem from Trump’s decision last year to withdraw the U.S. from Iran’s 2015 nuclear
accord with world powers and impose sweeping sanctions on the country that have crippled its economy. In
response, Iran began openly breaching limits set by the nuclear agreement to pressure European
signatories to provide economic relief to help offset the sanctions.
Maritime security around the Persian Gulf is of international importance. The Strait of Hormuz sits at
the mouth of the Persian Gulf, a shipping channel for one-fifth of all global crude exports. Petroleum
products from Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain are exported through
the strait to countries around the world. Iran also uses the strait for its exports.
Some 67,533 ships sailed through strait last year, according to data from maritime publication Lloyd’s
List sourcing research by Russell Group.
Ranjith Raja, a senior analyst at data firm Refinitiv, said this latest seized ship by Iran could be a
barge or supply vessel rather than a commercial merchant tanker based on the amount of fuel it was
allegedly transporting. Due to the numerous supply vessels operating in the area, it was not possible to
pinpoint which ship had been seized, he said.
Batrawy reported from Dubai, United Arab Emirates.