Photo: The Canadian Press
Greek-flagged oil tanker Prudent Warrior in the background is seen sailing through Istanbul, Turkey on April 19, 2019. Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard seized two Greek oil tankers on Friday, May 27, 2022 in helicopter raids on the Persian Gulf, according to officials. The actions were an apparent retaliation because Athens helped the United States seize Iranian crude oil in the Mediterranean Sea in violation of Washington’s overwhelming sanctions on the Islamic Republic. (Dursun Çam via AP)
Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard captured two Greek tankers on Friday in helicopter raids on the Persian Gulf, authorities said. The action appeared to be in retaliation for Athens’ assistance in seizing crude oil from an Iranian-flagged tanker ship this week in the Mediterranean Sea in violation of Washington’s overwhelming sanctions on the Islamic Republic.
The attack is the first major incident at sea in months, as tensions remain high between Iran and the West over its broken nuclear deal with world powers. As Tehran enriches more uranium, closer to gun levels than ever before, concerns are growing that negotiators will not find a way to return to the deal, increasing the risk of a wider war.
The Guard issued a statement announcing the seizures, accusing the tanker trucks of unspecified offenses. Nour News, a website close to Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, warned shortly before that Tehran planned to take “punitive action” on Greece to help the U.S. seize oil days before the Iranian-flagged Lana oil tanker.
Greece’s foreign ministry said it had acted strongly against the Iranian ambassador to Athens over the “violent seizure of two Greek-flagged ships” in the Persian Gulf. “These acts effectively amount to acts of piracy,” a ministry statement said.
The ministry called for the immediate release of the ships and their crews, warning that the confiscation would have “especially negative consequences” on bilateral relations and Iran’s relations with the European Union, of which Greece is a member.
An Iranian helicopter landed in the Greek-flagged Poseidon Delta in international waters about 22 nautical miles off the coast of Iran, the ministry said.
“Then armed men took the captive crew,” he said, adding that two Greeks were among the crew.
“A similar incident has been reported on another Greek-flagged ship carrying seven Greek nationals off the coast of Iran,” the ministry said.
A Greek official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the details of the attack with a journalist, identified the second ship as the Prudent Warrior. Its manager, Polembro Shipping in Greece, said earlier that the company was “cooperating with the authorities and making every effort to address the situation effectively”.
Greek officials did not identify the nationalities of the rest of the crew on board the ships.
The two ships had arrived from Iraq’s Basra oil terminal loaded with crude oil, according to MarineTraffic.com tracking data. Just before, Prudent Warrior had left Qatar and was probably carrying oil there as well, according to the data.
A U.S. defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence issues, said it appeared the two ships had landed on Friday, but not at, in Iranian territorial waters. After the abduction, they drifted into Iranian waters. The ships had also turned off their tracking devices, another red flag, the official said. However, neither of them had issued a single May call for help, the official said.
Iran’s confiscation on Friday was the latest in a series of hijackings and explosions that have affected a region that includes the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow mouth of the Persian Gulf through which one-fifth of everything passes. marketed oil. The incidents began after then-President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew the United States from Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers, which saw Tehran drastically limit its uranium enrichment in exchange for the uprising. of economic sanctions.
The U.S. Navy blames Iran for a series of lax mine attacks on ships that damaged tankers in 2019, as well as a deadly drone attack on an Israeli-linked oil tanker that killed two members of the European crew in 2021.
Iranian hijackers also briefly assaulted and captured a Panama-flagged asphalt tanker truck in front of the United Arab Emirates last year, and briefly captured and detained a Vietnamese tanker ship in November.
Tehran denies carrying out the attacks, but a wider shadow war between Iran and the West has unfolded in the region’s volatile waters. Oil seizures have been part of it since 2019, when Iran seized the British-flagged Stena Impero after the United Kingdom arrested an Iranian oil tanker off Gibraltar. Iran released the tanker months later, as London also released the Iranian ship.
Last year, Iran also confiscated and detained a South Korean-flagged tanker ship for months amid a $ 1 billion dispute over Seoul’s frozen assets.
“This incident is considered retaliation in accordance with the history of Iranian forces that directly detained ships,” warned the maritime intelligence firm Dryad Global. “As a result, it is currently being assessed that Greek-flagged vessels operating in the vicinity of Iran in the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman have a higher risk of interception, and it is recommended that this area be avoided until further notice. “.
Underlining this threat, the semi-official Iranian news agency Tasnim warned in a tweet: “There are still 17 more Greek ships in the Persian Gulf that could be confiscated.”
Meanwhile, the Guard is building a new massive support ship near the Strait of Hormuz as it tries to expand its naval presence in vital waters for international energy supply and beyond, according to satellite photos obtained by The Associated Press.
Talks in Vienna over Iran’s broken nuclear deal have been stalled since April. Since the collapse of the agreement, Iran has advanced centrifuges and has a rapidly growing uranium reserves. Non-proliferation experts warn that Iran has enriched enough up to 60% purity, a brief technical step from 90% weapon grade levels, to making a nuclear weapon if it so desires.
Iran insists its program is for peaceful purposes, although UN experts and Western intelligence agencies say Iran had a military nuclear program in place until 2003.
Building a nuclear bomb would take even longer in Iran if it were to pursue a weapon, analysts say, but warns that Tehran’s advances make the program more dangerous. Israel has threatened in the past that it will carry out a pre-emptive strike to stop Iran, and is already suspected of a series of recent killings targeting Iranian officials.