DUBAI: Iranian Revolutionary Guards seized a foreign oil tanker in the Gulf which they said was smuggling fuel and detained seven crewmen, Iran’s state media reported on Sunday, in a show of power amid heightened tensions with the West.
The vessel was intercepted near Iran’s Farsi Island in the Gulf, Iran’s semi-official Fars news agency said. The elite Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) has a navy base on the island which is located north of the Strait of Hormuz.
Fars and Lebanon’s al-Mayadeen TV station reported that the tanker was seized on Wednesday.
“The IRGC’s naval forces have seized a foreign oil tanker in the Persian Gulf that was smuggling fuel for some Arab countries,” the Guards commander Ramezan Zirahi told state TV.
It was carrying 700,000 litres of fuel, he said, without elaborating on the nationalities of the detained crewmen and the identity of the ship.
“The boats of the IRGC navy were patrolling the area to control traffic and detect illicit trade when they seized the tanker,” Fars quoted Zirahi as saying, adding that the seizure was in coordination with Iran’s judicial authorities.
Iran, which has some of the world’s cheapest fuel prices due to heavy state subsidies and the decline of its currency, has been fighting rampant fuel smuggling by land to neighbouring countries and by sea to Gulf Arab states.
“The tanker was transferred to the Bushehr port, where its fuel was handed over to the authorities,” Zirahi said.
A spokesman for the US Navy’s Bahrain-based Fifth Fleet said they had no information to confirm the media reports.
Another oil tanker, the Panama-flagged MT Riah, was captured by the elite force last month for allegedly smuggling fuel.
Tensions have risen between Iran and the West since last year when the United States pulled out of an international agreement which curbed the Islamic Republic’s nuclear programme in return for an easing of economic sanctions on Iran.
Fuelling fears of a Middle East conflict with global repercussions, the Guards seized British tanker Stena Impero near the Strait of Hormuz in July for alleged marine violations, two weeks after British forces captured an Iranian oil tanker near Gibraltar accused of violating sanctions on Syria.
“The Persian Gulf is like a tinderbox and explosion of a firecracker can lead to a huge disaster,” the semi-official Mehr news agency quoted Guards commander Brigadier General Ahmadreza Pourdastan as saying on Sunday.
“All countries which have interests in the region absolutely are not willing to see a new regional crisis.”