Iran seizes oil tanker as tensions rise in Gulf of Oman

The St Nikolas, previously confiscated by the U.S. for transporting Iranian oil, had its AIS tracking system turned off as it headed toward the Iranian port of Bandar-e-Jask.

In a recent rise of geopolitical tensions, Iran has seized an oil tanker carrying Iraqi crude destined for Turkey, according to Iranian state media reports. The Marshall Islands-flagged tanker, St Nikolas, was boarded by armed intruders near the Omani city of Sohar. This incident appears to be a retaliatory move by Iran for the seizure of the same vessel by the United States last year.

The St Nikolas, previously confiscated by the U.S. for transporting Iranian oil, had its AIS tracking system turned off as it headed toward the Iranian port of Bandar-e-Jask. The vessel was seized by the United States in 2023 under the name Suez Rajan, with allegations that Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) was attempting to transport contraband Iranian oil to China in violation of U.S. sanctions.

Iran had previously warned of consequences following the U.S. seizure, and the recent action seems to fulfil that promise. Despite the confusion in Iranian media labelling the vessel as American, the ship in question is the same one seized by the U.S. in 2023.

In 2023, the United States confiscated the vessel named Suez Rajan over allegations that Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) was attempting to transport prohibited Iranian oil to China, thereby violating U.S. sanctions.

The United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) received a report that armed persons had boarded the vessel around 50 nautical miles east of Oman’s coast. The armed intruders, wearing military-style uniforms and masks, reportedly altered the ship’s course toward Iranian territorial waters, leading to a loss of communication.

The UKMTO and authorities are actively investigating the incident. while the United States Navy’s Fifth Fleet, responsible for the region, has not provided immediate comments or further information.

This incident adds to the complex dynamics in the Gulf of Oman, a region already marked by geopolitical tensions and strategic importance due to its proximity to the Strait of Hormuz. The vessel, chartered by Turkish oil refiner Tupras, is manned by a crew of 19, including 18 Filipino nationals and one Greek national.

As international authorities probe the circumstances surrounding this latest development, it underscores the ongoing challenges in maritime security and the potential consequences of past geopolitical disputes resurfacing in the sensitive waters of the Gulf.