The already high tensions in the Persian Gulf have ratcheted up another notch after the Islamic Republic of Iran reportedly seized yet another oil tanker ship, the third such seizure in the past month.
Iranian state-run TV claimed on Sunday that an Iraqi-flagged tanker ship was seized by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps after it was suspected of smuggling fuel to other Arab nations in the gulf.
The New York Post reported that the seized ship has been taken to an Iranian port, and its seven crew members have been detained. The nationalities of the crew members have not been revealed, nor have any further details of the seizure been divulged thus far.
“The IRGC’s naval forces have seized a foreign oil tanker in the Persian Gulf that was smuggling fuel for some Arab countries,” IRGC commander Ramezan Zirahi said in an appearance on Iran’s state-run TV.
The seizure occurred near the Iranian-owned Farsi Island in the northern part of the Persian Gulf that is the site of an IRGC naval base. The ship was allegedly carrying about 185,000 gallons of fuel.
Iraqi government denies ties
The BBC reported that despite the Iranian claim that the seized tanker was of Iraqi origin, the Iraqi oil ministry denied having any ties to the tanker ship. “The ministry does not export diesel to the international market,” it said in a statement.
While authorities determine to which nation the seized ship actually belongs, two unnamed port officials in Iraq told the BBC that the vessel was most likely privately owned by an Iraqi trader.
It remains to be seen what sort of impact this seizure of a potentially privately-owned ship, even one with an admittedly “small” load of fuel, will have on the already escalating tensions in the region.
Instability on the rise
There can be little doubt that relations with Iran have been strained ever since the U.S. withdrew from the 2015 nuclear deal and reimposed economic sanctions against Iran. This has been evidenced in recent months by Iranian attacks against tanker ships and tit-for-tat shoot-downs of Iranian and U.S. surveillance drones over the Persian Gulf.
During that time, the United Kingdom seized an Iranian tanker in the Mediterranean Sea near the Strait of Gibraltar that was accused of illegally smuggling oil to Syria. In retaliation for that seizure, Iran took custody of a British-flagged tanker, just days after the country had seized a Panamanian-flagged tanker ship.
These back-and-forth seizures of tanker ships and accusations of smuggling do nothing to improve the situation in the region and only serve to further heighten tensions.
Hopefully, cool and rational heads will prevail and the issues at the core of the currently uneasy state of affairs can be dealt with in a manner that minimizes the chances for conflict and bloodshed, which appears to be where this all could be headed if nothing changes.