UAE-Based Oil Tanker Disappears in Iranian Waters in the Strait of Hormuz

July 16: An oil tanker based in the United Arab Emirates is missing after it stopped in Iranian waters three days ago [July 13] and switched off its transponder, raising concerns that it may have been seized by Iran amid heightened tensions in the Persian Gulf.

Shipping tracking data showed that the Panama-flagged RIAH stopped transmitting its position late Saturday when it was off the coast of Iran’s Qeshm Island in the Strait of Hormuz, where Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps has a base.

Data showed that the ship was on its way to Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates before diverting sharply and slowing to a halt in Iranian territorial waters.

An Emirati official denied that the tanker has links to the UAE, saying that the ship is “neither UAE owned nor operated” and “does not carry Emirati personnel.”

It “did not emit a distress call,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly. 

There were conflicting reports about the ownership of the RIAH, a small oil-products tanker. But according to Equasis, a shipping industry database, it is operated by Prime Tankers LLC in Dubai.

A U.S. defense official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation, said the U.S. military is aware of the disappearance and has no additional information to share at this time. The RIAH did not request any help or put out any distress signal, the official said.

In Washington, Mark Esper, President Trump’s nominee to become his new defense secretary, said at a Senate confirmation hearing Tuesday that the U.S. military and allied forces have established Operation Sentinel to patrol the Persian Gulf region’s waters in response to recent acts by Iranian forces.

Since May, at least six vessels have been attacked near the Strait of Hormuz, the world’s most important oil chokepoint, in incidents that the United States has blamed on Iran. Britain said last week that Iranian naval forces attempted to block a British oil tanker traversing the strait but were repelled by a navy frigate escorting the ship. [MSR Added: And on July 19 Iran seizes two vessels (one British flagged, and another British owned), later releasing the latter.]

Esper said that if the British warship had not intervened, it probably would have resulted in the Iranians assaulting the oil tanker or forcing it into Iranian waters and creating an international incident.

“Just a simple thing of appearing on the scene and the warship putting itself in between the IRGC boats and a merchant vessel was enough to deter something that could have escalated out of control,” he said.

Source and Full Text Available at: Washington Post / Erin Cunningham

UPDATE July 22: Panama’s maritime authority said on Saturday it had begun the process of withdrawing the registration of an oil tanker called MT Riah, which was towed to Iran after it disappeared from ship tracking maps in the Strait of Hormuz on July 14. Panama began the flag withdrawal process on Friday after an investigation determined the tanker had “deliberately violated international regulations” by not reporting any unusual situation, the authority said in a statement. “We roundly condemn the use of Panamanian flagged ships for illicit activities,” the authority said in a statement. Panama, which has the largest shipping fleet in the world, has recently withdrawn flags from dozens of vessels, some of which were operated by Iran.

The latest development follows the British seizure of an Iranian oil tanker accused of violating sanctions on Syria. Panama said that ship had been removed from its registry on May 29. (Source: Reuters)

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