DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AFP) — Satellite images, analyzed by the Associated Press Sunday, showed two oil tankers recently seized by Iran off the coast of one of its main port cities on the strategic Strait of Hormuz.
Images from Planet Labs PBC showed Advantage Sweet and Niovi moored south of Bandar Abbas near a naval base in the port city in Iran’s Hormozgan province on Saturday. Their capture represents just the latest seizure of ships by Iran amid tensions with the West over its rapidly advancing nuclear programme, although it appears the two ships may have been seized for different reasons.
Iran seized the Marshall Islands-flagged vessel Advantage Sweet, staffing 23 Indians and one Russian, on 27 April. It also cruised in the Gulf of Oman. Tehran claimed the ship collided with another vessel, although tracking data for the Advantage Sweet showed no strange behavior on its voyage. Iran has in the past made allegations of seizing ships to cover vessels being taken as hostages in negotiations with the West.
The “Advantage Suite” was carrying Kuwaiti crude oil for the US energy company Chevron Corp. in San Ramon, California, at the time of its seizure. Its seizure comes as another tanker believed to be carrying Iranian crude disappeared from an anchorage off Singapore, a year after it was identified as trying to evade US sanctions..
The Financial Times, as well as the naval intelligence company Ambry, reported that the ship, called the Suez Ragan, had been seized by order of the US authorities. US officials and those associated with the Swiss Ragan did not respond to questions about the tanker’s disappearance while en route to the west.
On Wednesday, Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guards seized the Panamanian-flagged tanker Nioufi Where she left a dry dock in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, bound for Fujairah on the east coast of the United Arab Emirates. Although no cargo was moved, data from S&P Global Market Intelligence seen by the AP showed that in July 2020 Niofi received oil from a ship then known as the Oman Pride.
The US Treasury Department in August 2021 sanctioned the Oman Pride and others associated with the ship for its involvement in an international oil smuggling network that supports the Quds Force, the Revolutionary Guard’s expeditionary unit that operates throughout the Middle East.
Separately, alleged emails posted online by Wikiran, a website that solicits leaked documents from the Islamic Republic, indicate that goods Niovi carries were sold to companies in China without permission.
Claire Jungman, chief of staff of the organization United Against Nuclear Iran, which has tracked shipments of sanctioned crude oil by Tehran, “strongly suspects that the Niofi seizure is linked to a dispute over an Iranian oil shipment.” Iran said it seized the Niofi due to an unspecified court order in Tehran.
Niovi managers did not return repeated phone calls for comment. The Greek coast guard said the crew of the Niovi were Greek, Filipino and Sri Lankan sailors.
Follow Jon Gambrell on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jongambrellAP.
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