Iran's Navy on Thursday said they seized a tanker with Iraqi crude in the Sea of Oman, citing retaliation for the U.S. "stealing" of Iran's oil in April 2023.
The seizure of the Marshall Islands-flagged St Nikolas, which was destined for Türkiye, coincides with weeks of attacks by Yemen's Iran-backed Houthi militias targeting Red Sea shipping routes.
The vessel, previously named "Suez Rajan," had "stolen" an Iranian oil cargo under U.S. guidance last year, said a statement published on the Iranian army's public relations website, adding that the Iranian oil was then transferred to U.S. ports and handed over to the United States.
The White House condemned the seizure. "No justification whatsoever to seize it, none whatsoever. They need to let it go," White House national security spokesperson John Kirby said.
Washington seized the St Nikolas last year in a sanctions enforcement operation under its previous name, Suez Rajan. Iran warned the U.S. the move would "not go unanswered".
Armed personnel boarded the St Nikolas as it sailed close to the Omani city of Sohar, according to British maritime security firm Ambrey, and its AIS tracking system was turned off as it headed in the direction of the Iranian port of Bandar-e-Jask.
"Communication with the oil tanker, St Nikolas, under Marshall Islands flag and owned by the Greek shipowner Empire Navigation has been cut off around 06:30 on January 11 in the waters of Oman," Turkish oil refiner Tupras told Reuters in an emailed statement, confirming it had bought the cargo from Iraqi state marketer SOMO.
"The incident has no impact on our refinery operations," said the Turkish firm, which operates the Izmir refinery with a capacity of 241,500 barrels per day (bpd) in Aliaga.
The ship loaded around 145,000 metric tonnes of oil in the Iraqi port of Basra and was heading to Aliaga in western Türkiye via the Suez Canal, Empire Navigation told Reuters. It said it had lost contact with the vessel, manned by a crew of 19 including 18 Filipino nationals and one Greek national.
(With input from Reuters, Xinhua)
(Cover: St Nikolas ship X1 oil tanker involved in U.S.-Iran dispute in the Gulf of Oman is seen in the Tokyo bay, Japan, October 4, 2020. /Reuters)