A tanker in the Gulf of Oman was carried by men in military uniform in an apparent seizure in the waters of the Middle East

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — An oil tanker at the heart of the crisis between Iran and the United States was seized in the Gulf of Oman by “unauthorized” people in military uniform early Thursday morning, an advisory group run by the British military has warned. And a private security company.

The details appear to remain unclear The latest ship seizure in the tense waterways of the Middle East. However, suspicion immediately fell on Iran, as the ship was formerly known as the “Suez Rajan” and was involved in a year-long dispute that eventually led to the US Department of Justice seizing 1 million barrels of Iranian crude oil on board.

The apparent seizure also comes after weeks of attacks by Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen on ships in the Red Sea, including Their largest ever barrage of drones and missiles It launched late Tuesday. This has increased the risk of possible retaliatory strikes by US-led forces now patrolling the vital waterway, especially after… A vote in the United Nations Security Council, Wednesday, condemns the Houthis American and British officials also warned of the potential consequences of the attacks.

The UK's British Army Maritime Trade Operations, which provides warnings to sailors in the Middle East, said Thursday's apparent seizure began early in the morning, in the waters between Oman and Iran in an area transited by ships entering and leaving the Strait of Oman. Hormuz, the narrow mouth of the Persian Gulf through which a fifth of oil trade passes.

The British Army-run group described receiving a report from the ship's security director about hearing “unidentified voices on the phone” along with the ship's captain. She said further efforts to contact the ship were unsuccessful and that the men who boarded the ship were wearing “black military uniforms and black masks.”

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Private security company Ambrey said “six military personnel” had boarded the ship, which it said was the oil tanker St. Nicholas. She said the men covered surveillance cameras as they ascended.

The tanker was off the city of Basra, Iraq, to ​​load crude oil bound for Aliaga, Turkey, for the Turkish refining company Tupras. Satellite tracking data analyzed by The Associated Press last showed that the Marshall Islands-flagged tanker had turned around and headed toward the port of Bandar Jask in Iran.

The ship St. Nicholas was formerly called the “Swiss Rajan”, associated with the Greek shipping company Empire Navigation. In a statement to the Associated Press, Athens-based Empire Navigation acknowledged losing contact with the ship, which has a crew of 18 Filipinos and one Greek national. The company did not provide details.

Interest began to focus on the Suez Canal Rajan in February 2022, when The group United Against Nuclear Iran said it suspected the tanker was carrying oil from Iran's Kharg IslandThe main oil distribution station in the Arabian Gulf. Satellite images and shipping data analyzed at the time by AP supported this claim.

The ship remained for several months in the South China Sea off the northeastern coast of Singapore before suddenly sailing to the Texas coast without explanation. The ship unloaded its cargo to another tanker in August. Which launched its oil in Houston As part of a Department of Justice order.

In September, Empire Navigation pleaded guilty to smuggling sanctioned Iranian crude oil and agreed to pay a $2.4 million fine in a case involving the tanker.

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The US Navy's Fifth Fleet, which patrols the Middle East, did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the incident. The state-run Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA), citing foreign reports, reported the boarding but did not say anything more.

Iran's mission to the United Nations did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

After the Suez Rajan ship then headed to America, Iran seized two tankers near the Strait of HormuzIncluding a ship carrying cargo for the US oil major Chevron Corp. In July, the Supreme Commander of the Revolutionary Guards' naval arm threatened to take further action against anyone who unloaded the Suez Rajan ship, and state media linked the recent seizures to the fate of the cargo.

Since the collapse of the Iran nuclear deal, the waters surrounding the strait have seen a series of ship seizures by Iran, as well as attacks targeting ships that the Navy has blamed on Tehran. Iran and the navy have also engaged in a series of tense standoffs in the waterway, although attention recently has focused on the region. Houthi attacks on ships in the Red Sea.

the The United States and its allies It has also seized Iranian oil shipments since 2019. This has led to a series of attacks in the Middle East attributed to the Islamic Republic, as well as the seizure of ships by Iranian military and paramilitary forces, threatening global shipping.

The Houthis say their attacks aim to stop the suffering of Palestinians in the Strip The Israeli war on Hamas in the Gaza Strip. However, the rebels have increasingly targeted ships with weak or no ties to Israel.

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Meanwhile, satellite tracking data analyzed by The Associated Press on Thursday showed that an Iranian cargo ship suspected of being a spy platform in the Red Sea had left the waterway. The data showed that Behshad crossed the Bab al-Mandab Strait into the Gulf of Aden.

Behshad has been present in the Red Sea since 2021, off the Eritrean Dahlak Archipelago. It arrived there after Iran removed Saviz, another suspected spy base in the Red Sea It was damaged in an attack that analysts attributed to Israel Wider middle Shadow war of ship attacks In the region.

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