Iran seizes 2 Greek oil tankers in the Persian Gulf, tension mounts

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guards seized two Greek tankers in the Persian Gulf on Friday, just after Athens helped the United States seize an Iranian tanker for alleged sanctions violations at sea Mediterranean.

The Guard’s announcement comes as tensions remain high between Iran and the West over stalled negotiations over its rapidly advancing nuclear program. And although the Persian Gulf has seen a string of attacks since former President Donald Trump unilaterally pulled America out of the deal in 2018, there hasn’t been a major incident at sea for months. .

The Guard released a statement on its website accusing the anonymous tankers of unspecified violations.

Greece’s foreign ministry said it had made a strong representation to Iran’s ambassador in Athens over the “violent takeover of two Greek-flagged vessels” in the Persian Gulf.

“These acts effectively amount to acts of piracy,” said a statement from the ministry.

The ministry called for the immediate release of the ships and their crews, and said the acts would have “particularly negative consequences” in bilateral relations and in Iran’s relations with the European Union, of which Greece is a member. member.

The ministry statement said that earlier on Friday, an Iranian helicopter landed on the Greek-flagged Delta Poseidon in international waters some 22 nautical miles off the coast of Iran.

“Armed men then captured the crew,” he added, adding that two Greek nationals were among the crew.

“A similar incident was reported on another Greek-flagged vessel, which was carrying seven Greek citizens, near the Iranian coast,” the ministry said.

A Greek official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss details of the attack with a reporter, identified the second ship as the Prudent Warrior. Its owner, Polembros Shipping in Greece, said earlier that the company was “cooperating with the authorities and doing everything possible to effectively remedy the situation”.

Greek officials did not identify the nationalities of other crew members aboard the ships.

A US defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters, said it appeared the two ships approached – but not in – Iranian territorial waters on Friday before drift in Iranian waters. The ships had also turned off their tracking devices, another red flag, the official said. However, neither had issued a mayday or a call for help, the official said.

Iran had threatened Friday to take “punitive measures” against the involvement of Athens in the seizure by the United States of an Iranian tanker in Greek waters.

Iranian site Nour News, close to its security services, issued the threat just as maritime news site Lloyd’s List said it believed two Greek tankers had been seized in the Persian Gulf. Citing unnamed industry sources, Lloyd’s reported that the two vessels were boarded after Iranian military helicopters approached them on Friday afternoon. He said the two tankers had just been loaded with Iraqi crude oil.

The cargo of crude oil from an Iranian-flagged tanker that was detained in Greek waters last month has been seized and is being transferred to another vessel following a request from the United States, an official said Thursday. Greek.

The official said that following a ‘legal intervention by US authorities regarding the ship’s cargo’, the process is now underway, at the expense of the US government, to have the oil ‘turned over’ off the port from Karystos on the island of Euboea, in the Aegean Sea.

The official, who asked not to be identified in order to discuss the matter, did not provide further details. A spokesperson for the Justice Department in Washington and the US Embassy in Athens declined to comment on Thursday.

Iran’s seizure on Friday was the latest in a series of hijackings and explosions to rock a region that includes the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow mouth of the Persian Gulf through which a fifth of all oil traded passes.

The US Navy has blamed Iran for a series of limpet mine attacks on ships that damaged tankers in 2019, as well as a deadly drone attack on an Israel-linked tanker that killed two operatives European crews in 2021.

Iranian hijackers also stormed and briefly captured a Panamanian-flagged tanker off the United Arab Emirates last year, as well as briefly seized and detained a Vietnamese tanker in November.

Tehran denies carrying out the attacks, but a wider shadow war between Iran and the West has been unfolding in the region’s turbulent waters. Meanwhile, the Guard is building a massive new support vessel near the strategic Strait of Hormuz as it tries to expand its naval presence in waters vital to international energy supplies and beyond, satellite photos show. obtained by the Associated Press.

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Paphite reported from Athens, Greece. Associated Press writer Amir Vahdat in Tehran, Iran, contributed to this report.

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