Iran’s regime has seized an oil tanker, state news agency Press TV said on Thursday, before later releasing a video purporting to show the tanker.
The Fars news agency, affiliated to the regime’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), said IRGC forces ambushed the tanker, carrying 12 people on board, on Sunday.
The IRGC said it had initially responded to distress calls from a ship on Sunday but when they searched it, they discovered it was a “smuggling operation,” according to Iranian state media.
The footage released by Press TV later on Thursday shows two smaller vessels maneuvering around a larger ship, with clear markings saying “RIAH” and “Panama.” It is not clear when the video of the tanker was filmed.
Since the weekend, US intelligence have been investigating what happened to the Panamanian-flagged tanker M/T RIAH.
The ship-tracking website Marine Vessel Traffic has not had a current location for the tanker since July 7, according to CNN.
After US intelligence raised fears that the ship had been forced into Iranian waters last weekend, Iran said on Wednesday that it had assisted one vessel suffering a technical glitch.
It remains unclear who owns the ship, CNN said.
While some reports suggested that the tanker was UAE-owned, the United Arab Emirates has said that the tanker in question was “neither owned nor operated by the UAE. It does not carry Emirati personnel, and did not emit a distress call,” according to state-run WAM.
Citing an IRGC statement, Fars described the ship as a foreign tanker that was seized in an area south of Larak, a small island in the Strait of Hormuz.
Fars added that the ship was carrying fuel smuggled to it on Iranian dhows, or small boats.
In a statement on Thursday, a US State Department official said the US “strongly condemns the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy’s continued harassment of vessels and interference with safe passage in and around the Strait of Hormuz.”
“Iran must cease this illicit activity and release the reportedly seized crew and vessel immediately,” they said, adding that the US will “continue to work closely with our allies and partners to ensure the Iranian regime’s extortion tactics and malign activities do not further disrupt maritime security and global commerce.”
On Thursday morning, the US Navy destroyed an Iranian drone using electronic jamming, a US defense official told CNN. The crew of the USS Boxer took defensive action against the Iranian unmanned aerial vehicle after it came close to the US naval ship, the official said.
Chief Pentagon Spokesperson Jonathan Hoffman said that the USS Boxer had been in international waters where it was “conducting a planned inbound transit of the Strait of Hormuz.”
US President Donald Trump said the Iranian drone was “threatening the safety of the ship and the ship’s crew” and was “immediately destroyed.”
The US “reserves the right to defend our personnel, our facilities and interest and calls upon all nations to condemn Iran’s attempts to disrupt freedom of navigation and global commerce,” Trump added.
In another incident last week, armed IRGC boats tried unsuccessfully to impede the passage of a British oil tanker in the Persian Gulf.
In June, tensions between the US and Iran’s regime escalated into a military standoff after an American drone was shot down by Tehran over the Strait of Hormuz, one of the world’s most vital shipping routes.
On Wednesday, the head of the IRGC, Commander Hossein Salami, warned that Iran’s regime will change from its current defensive strategy to an offensive one “if the enemy makes a mistake,” according to reporting by the Tasnim News Agency, affiliated to the IRGC Quds Force.
In April 2019, the US State Department added the IRGC to its list of foreign terrorist organizations.