Masked Iranian navy commandos conducted a helicopter-borne raid to seize a U.S.-bound oil tanker in the Gulf of Oman, footage aired by Iran’s state television showed Friday.
The capture on Thursday of the Turkish-managed, Chinese-owned Advantage Sweet represents the latest seizure by Iran amid tensions with the U.S. over advancing nuclear program. While Tehran says the tanker was seized after it ran into another Iranian vessel, it has provided no evidence yet to support the claim — and the Islamic Republic has taken other ships as bargaining chips in negotiations with the West.
In this frame grab from video footage released Friday April 28, 2023 by the Iranian Navy, Iranian marines rappel onto the Advantage Sweet, a Marshall Islands-flagged oil tanker’s deck in the Gulf of Oman. / AP
The footage showed the commandos descending on the deck of the Advantage Sweet by ropes from a hovering helicopter. A photograph showed one commando with his fist in the air after apparently taking the vessel.
“Advantage Sweet was seized by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy while transiting international waters in the Gulf of Oman,” U.S. Naval Forces Central Command said in a statement Thursday. “Iran’s actions are contrary to international law and disruptive to regional security and stability. The Iranian government should immediately release the oil tanker.”
The U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet has said the Iranian seizure was at least the fifth commercial vessel taken by Tehran in the last two years.
“Iran’s continued harassment of vessels and interference with navigational rights in regional waters are a threat to maritime security and the global economy,” it added.
Iran claimed the tanker had crashed into one of its vessels, leaving two Iranian crew members missing, and injuring several others.
The vessel’s manager, a Turkish firm called Advantage Tankers, issued a statement acknowledging the Advantage Sweet was “being escorted by the Iranian navy to a port on the basis of an international dispute.” All the ship’s 24 crew members are Indian.
“The safety and welfare of our valued crew members is our No. 1 priority,” the firm said. “Similar experiences show that crew members of vessels taken under such circumstances are in no danger.”
The vessel had picked up oil from Kuwait and was chartered by Chevron Corp, an Advantage Tankers spokesperson said. It was bound for Houston, Texas, according to the MarineTraffic tracking website.
Thursday’s seizure was the latest incident in the sensitive waters of the Gulf, which carry about a third of the world’s seaborne oil.
Such incidents have grown more frequent since 2018 when the U.S. withdrew from a landmark nuclear agreement between Iran and major powers and reimposed crippling sanctions. Marathon efforts to restore the deal have stalled.
The latest seizure came only days after Western governments toughened sanctions on Iran’s Revolutionary Guards.
Last December, an Iranian patrol boat allegedly “attempted to blind” two U.S. vessels that were conducting “a routine transit in international waters.” That incident occurred in the Strait of Hormuz, a vital chokepoint that connects the Persian Gulf with the Gulf of Oman and the Arabian Sea. It’s considered the world’s most important oil transit route, since about one-fifth of the world’s oil supplies travel through the strait each day.
Marshall Islands-flagged oil tanker Advantage Sweet sails at Marmara sea near Istanbul, Turkey January 10, 2023. YORUK ISIK / REUTERS
AFP contributed to this report.