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Oil Tanker Disappears In Persian Gulf, Ends Up At Iran’s Qeshm Island With IRGC Intervention

AT SEA -- This image released on June 17, 2019 by the U.S. Department of Defense in a press release is presented as a new evidence incriminating Iran in the June 13 tanker attacks in the Gulf of Oman

Four days after the mysterious disappearance of an oil tanker in the Persian Gulf, it turns out that Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) has towed the ship to an Iranian island for repairs. However, surprisingly, the crew have not contacted their base in the UAE.

Abbas Mousavi, the spokesman for Iran’s Foreign Ministry,says an oil tanker that had disappeared from radars Saturday night “has been directed toward Iranian waters” and is being repaired at an Iranian harbor.

Reports on July 16 said the oil tanker Riah was probably detained by the IRGC and was being held at an IRGC base atIran’s Qeshm Island.

The crew of the vessel have not contacted their base in the United Arab Emirates since July 13.

Military analyst Hossein Arian told Radio Farda that tanker tracking and monitoring agencies have noticed that the oil tanker sailed toward Qeshm Island after it cleared the Strait of Hormuz.

Mousavi, however, said the crew onboard the oil tanker had called for help following a technical problem, so the tanker was towed to Iranian waters by Iranian forces.

Infographic: Strait Of Hormuz Shipping Lanes
Infographic: Strait Of Hormuz Shipping Lanes

He said what Iranian forces did was consistent with international regulations.

The ship had disappeared from radars while sailing through the Strait of Hormuz on July 13. Monitoring agencies said they had last traced the oil tanker while it was sailing toward Iranian waters.

Monitoring agencies say the ship was not observed turning its GPS off in the past. According to Arian, even in case of an emergency, oil tankers usually have a backup system, but Riah was not observed to use its backup generator or communications equipment.

Media reports had initially identified the ship as a UAE oil tanker. On July 16, Bloomberg reported that this small oil tanker was registered in Panama, adding that it does not belong to the United Arab Emirates and its crew are not UAE citizens.

The ship’s previous owner, Prime Tankers, said it sold the vessel to another UAE company, Mowj al-Bandar, but this company says it is no longer the owner.

A U.S. official told reporters on July 16 that the tanker may have been detained by Iran. One of the reasons for speculation was that, on the same day, Iranian Supreme Leader AyatollahAli Khamenei had warned that Iran would retaliate for the detention of an Iranian oil tanker in Gibraltar.

Following the U.S. pullout from the nuclear deal with Iran and the reimposition of heavy sanctions that, among other things, restricted Iran’s oil export, Tehran has repeatedly threatened that if Iran cannot sell its oil in the international markets, “no other country can.”

Concerns were also raised about the incident as tensions between Iran and the United States have made the situation in the region extremely volatile.

Iran has allegedly been involved in attacks on six ships in the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman during May and June, and as tensions further escalated Iran downed a U.S. drone and attempted to detain a British oil tanker.

The attempt was strongly criticized by British and U.S. officials.

Military analyst Hossein Arian told Radio Farda that the oiltanker “Riah is a small, low-speed vessel with a maximum capacity of about 2,000 tons. It usually sailed between Sharjah and Fujairah via the Strait of Hormuz.”

He said it is surprising that neither Iranian news sources nor the IRGC had reported about the ship being towed to Iran.

In the meantime, the United Arab Emirates says it is carefully watching the situation.