Iran seizes 2 Greek tankers in Persian Gulf as tensions rise

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Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard on Friday seized two Greek oil tankers in a helicopter raid in the Persian Gulf, officials said.

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The action appeared to be in retaliation for Athens’ aid in the seizure of crude oil by the US from an Iran-flagged tanker in the Mediterranean this week in violation of Washington’s crushing sanctions on the Islamic republic.

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The raid marks the first major incident at sea in months as tensions mount between Iran and the West over its nuclear deal with world powers.

As Tehran enriches more uranium, closer to weapons-grade levels than ever before, worries grow that negotiators will find no way to go back on the deal – risking a widespread war.

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The guard issued a statement announcing the seizure, accusing the tankers of unspecified violations. Noor News, a website of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, warned some time ago that Tehran planned to take “punitive action” on Greece for helping the US seize oil from the Iranian-flagged tanker Lana.

Greece’s foreign ministry said it made a strong demarcation to the Iranian ambassador in Athens over the “violent takeover of two ships of the Greek flag” in the Persian Gulf. “These acts are effectively tantamount to acts of piracy,” a statement from the ministry said.

The ministry called for the immediate release of the ships and their crew, warning that the seizure would have “particularly negative consequences” on bilateral relations and Iran’s relations with the European Union, of which Greece is a member.

The ministry said an Iranian helicopter landed on the Greek-flagged Delta Poseidon in international waters about 22 nautical miles off the coast of Iran.

“The armed men then took the crew captive,” it said, adding that two Greek civilians were among the crew. “A similar incident has been reported on another Greek-flagged ship carrying seven Greek nationals, which was close to the coast of Iran,” the ministry said.

A Greek official who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the details of the attack with a journalist, identified the other ship as the Prudent Warrior. Its manager in Greece, Polembros Shipping, previously said that the company is “cooperating with the authorities and making every effort to effectively address the situation.”
Greek officials did not identify the nationalities of the other crew aboard the ships.

According to tracking data from MarineTraffic.com, both the ships had arrived from the Basra oil terminal in Iraq, which was laden with crude. The data shows that Prudent Warrior had moved out of Qatar some time ago and there was likely to be a load of oil there as well.

A US defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters, said the two ships appeared to have come close to Iranian waters on Friday – but did not. After the kidnapping, they went into Iranian waters. The official said the ships had also turned off their tracking devices – another red flag. However, there was neither a May Day issue nor a call for help, the official said.

Iran’s seizure on Friday was the latest in a series of kidnappings and explosions involving the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow mouth of the Persian Gulf, through which a fifth of all traded oil passes.

The events began after then-President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew the US from Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers, with Tehran significantly limiting its enrichment of uranium in exchange for lifting economic sanctions.

The US Navy blames Iran for a series of lame mine attacks on ships that damaged tankers in 2019, as well as for a deadly drone attack on an Israeli-linked oil tanker that killed two European crew members in 2021. killed.

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

Tehran denies carrying out the attacks, but a widespread shadow war between Iran and the West has been played out in the region’s volatile waters.

Tanker seizures have been a part of this since 2019, when Iran seized the British-flagged Stena Impero after the United Kingdom detained an Iranian oil tanker off Gibraltar. Iran released the tanker months later as London also abandoned the Iranian vessel.

Iran also confiscated a South Korean-flagged tanker for months last year amid a dispute over billions of dollars worth of frozen assets near Seoul.

Maritime intelligence firm Dryad Global warned, “This incident is assessed as a retaliation consistent with a history of tit-for-tat detaining of ships by Iranian forces.”

“As a result, Greek-flagged ships operating in the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman in the vicinity of Iran are currently assessed to be at a high risk of interception and advised to avoid the area until further notice.” She goes.”

Underscoring that threat, Iran’s semi-official Tasnim news agency warned in a tweet: “There are 17 other Greek ships still in the Persian Gulf that could be seized.”

Meanwhile, the Guard is building a massive new support ship near the Strait of Hormuz, according to satellite photos obtained by The Associated Press, as it expands its naval presence in waters critical to international energy supplies and beyond. tries to do.

Negotiations on Iran’s nuclear deal in Vienna have been stalled since April. Since the collapse of the deal, Iran runs advanced centrifuges and has rapidly growing reserves of enriched uranium. Non-proliferation experts warn that Iran has enriched it enough to have 60% purity – a small technological step up from weapons-grade levels of 90% – to create a nuclear weapon if it so desires.

Iran insists that its program is for peaceful purposes, although UN experts and Western intelligence agencies say Iran had an organized military nuclear program as far back as 2003.

Analysts say it will still take Iran more time to build a nuclear bomb, analysts say, though they warn that Tehran’s progress makes the program more dangerous.

Israel has threatened in the past that it would conduct a preemptive strike to deter Iran – and is already suspected in a series of recent killings targeting Iranian officials.

Credit: www.marketwatch.com /

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