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Iranian forces seize UAE-based oil tanker

Press TV via AP

This undated photo shows the Panamanian-flagged oil tanker MT Riah surrounded by Iranian Revolutionary Guard vessels.

The Associated Press DUBAI (AP) — Iran said Thursday its Revolutionary Guard seized a foreign oil tanker and its crew of 12 for smuggling fuel out of the country, and hours later released video showing the vessel to be a United Arab Emirates-based ship that had vanished in Iranian waters over the weekend.

The announcement solved one mystery — the fate of the missing ship — but raised a host of other questions and heightened worries about the free flow of traffic in the Strait of Hormuz, one of the world’s most critical petroleum shipping routes. One-fifth of global crude exports passes through the strait.

The incident happened with tensions running high between Iran and the United States over U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to pull the United States out of the Iran nuclear deal.

Iranian state television did not at first identify the seized vessel but said it was intercepted on Sunday and was involved in smuggling about 1 million liters of Iranian fuel. Iran did not identify the nationalities of the crew.

Crude prices, which had been falling since last week, ticked higher almost immediately after the announcement.

Iran said the tanker was seized south of its Larak Island in the Strait of Hormuz. Neighboring Qeshm Island has a Revolutionary Guard base on it.

Hours after that initial report, Iranian TV released footage of the ship surrounded by Guard vessels and showed the registration number painted on its bridge, matching that of the UAE-based MT Riah.

The Panamanian-flagged tanker stopped transmitting its location early Sunday near Qeshm Island, according to data on the tracking site Maritime Traffic. However, it often did so over the past two years when nearing Iranian waters, other tracking data shows.

U.S. Central Command, which oversees American military operations in the Middle East, declined to comment.

It was not immediately clear whether the seizure was a straightforward attempt by Iran to curb oil smuggling or also an effort to assert its authority in the strait and send a message to its rivals in the region. The UAE has long lobbied for tougher U.S. policy toward Iran, though more recently it has called for de-escalation.

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said that the seized vessel was at best a “small tanker” and that Iranian forces are cracking down on fuel smuggling daily.

“We live in a very dangerous environment. The United States has pushed itself and the rest of the world into probably the brink of an abyss,” he told reporters at the United Nations in New York. Zarif accused the Trump administration of “trying to starve our people” and “deplete our treasury” through sanctions.Speech

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