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Iran seized oil tanker in the Strait of Hormuz, says US Navy

United States says Panama-flagged tanker seized by Iranian forces in second such incident in less than a week
An Iranian Navy warship takes part in the 'National Persian Gulf day' in the Strait of Hormuz, on April 30, 2019 (AFP)

Iranian forces have seized an oil tanker in the Strait of Hormuz, the US Navy said on Wednesday, the second such incident in less than a week.

The Panaman-flagged tanker, Niovi, was sailing around the coast of the United Arab Emirates, from Dubai towards Fujairah, when it was stopped by Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) navy forces, the US Navy said.

"A dozen fast-attack craft swarmed the vessel in the middle of the strait," said a statement from the Bahrain-based US Fifth Fleet.

"The [IRGC] subsequently forced the oil tanker to reverse course and head toward Iranian territorial waters off the coast of Bandar Abbas."

Iran's Tasnim news agency reported the seizure of a "violator" ship, but did not go into reasons for the capture.

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The move comes as Iran's President Ebrahim Raisi was visiting Damascus, capital city of its close ally Syria, on Wednesday.

During the visit, Raisi congratulated Syria's President Bashar al-Assad for "achieving victory" in the country's 12-year-long civil war, "despite the threats and sanctions imposed on you", according to official media.

Spate of incidents

There have been a spate of incidents since 2018, when then-US President Donald Trump pulled out of a nuclear agreement and reimposed crippling sanctions on Iran, sending tensions soaring.

US lawmakers introduce legislation to counter Iran maritime threats
Read More »

Iran seized a US-bound oil tanker off Oman last Thursday, saying it had crashed into an Iranian vessel leaving two crew missing.

The US Navy demanded the immediate release of the Marshall Islands-flagged tanker, saying it was crossing international waters in the Gulf of Oman and slamming Iran’s "continued harassment of vessels”.

The Financial Times reported that the seizure appeared to be in retaliation for a prior US seizure of Iranian oil, which Iran had recently unsuccessfully lobbied to retrieve. 

Last week, members of the US Senate and House Abraham Accords Caucuses introduced legislation designed to counter maritime threats emanating from Iran, the same day Tehran seized a US-bound tanker.

If it passes, the act would require the Department of Defense to develop a strategy with partners and allies in the Middle East to counter maritime threats posed by Iran, violent militant organisations, and criminal networks.

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