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Indonesia Seizes Iran, Panama-Flagged Tankers Over Suspected Illegal Oil Transfer

The seized tankers are seen anchored together in waters off the island of Borneo.

Indonesia says it has seized an Iranian tanker and Panamanian vessel suspected of illegally transferring oil in the Southeast Asian nation's waters.

Iran had previously been accused of trying to conceal its oil sales by disabling tracking systems on its tankers as it seeks to counter crippling U.S. sanctions.

The Indonesian Maritime Security Agency said on January 25 that the crude oil supertankers -- Iranian-flagged MT Horse and Panamanian-flagged MT Freya -- were seized the previous day off Kalimantan Province and will go to Batam island in Riau Island Province for further investigation.

The crew had failed to display the vessels' national flags, turned off their identification systems, and did not respond to radio calls, agency spokesman Wisnu Pramandita said.

Wisnu told Reuters that the ships were "caught red-handed" transferring oil from MT Horse to MT Freya when they were discovered by the Indonesian authorities.

He said that 61 crew members from both vessels were detained.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh told a news conference that Tehran has asked Indonesian authorities to provide details about the seizure.

Both the tankers are capable of carrying 2 million barrels of oil. MT Horse is owned by the National Iranian Tanker Company, while MT Freya is managed by the Shanghai Future Ship Management Co.

The two companies did not immediately comment on the seizure of the ships.

In 2018, then President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from an international nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers, arguing that the 2015 accord did not go far enough, and started reimposing sanctions on Iran in a bid to force Tehran to negotiate a new agreement.

In response, Iran has gradually breached parts of the pact, which eased international sanctions in exchange for curbs on Iran's disputed nuclear program, saying it is no longer bound by it.

Last week, U.S. President Joe Biden’s secretary of state nominee said the new administration would seek a “longer and stronger” nuclear agreement with Iran.

However, Antony Blinken also said Washington is a “long way” from reaching a new accord with Tehran, echoing comments made earlier in the day by Biden’s pick to lead the nation’s spy bureaucracy, Avril Haines.

Blinken was speaking to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during his confirmation hearing on January 19, on the eve of Biden’s inauguration.

With reporting by AFP and Reuters