Iran seizes oil tanker involved in U.S. dispute off coast of Oman

Aerial view of a tanker.

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Iran on Thursday captured an oil tanker previously involved in a Washington-Tehran dispute over carrying U.S.-sanctioned crude, Iranian state media said.

The Iranian navy seized the vessel St. Nikolas in the Gulf of Oman, the state-run Islamic Republic News Agency said in a Google-translated report, after it surrendered Iranian crude to U.S. authorities following allegations of sanctions violations. Iran says this forfeiture was actually theft.

Earlier Thursday, the U.K. Marine Trade Operations said an unnamed tanker was boarded by armed individuals near the Gulf of Oman and appeared to change course toward Iranian waters.

The UKMTO reported on social media that an unnamed ship was boarded by four or five unauthorized people early Thursday at 50 nautical miles east of Sohar, Oman. Communication with the vessel was lost, and the ship altered course toward Iranian waters, the U.K. agency said. identified the vessel as the St. Nikolas, previously known as the Suez Rajan.

A media spokesperson for Empire Navigation, which manages the St. Nikolas, told CNBC that the vessel was en route to the Turkish port Aliaga after loading crude from the Iraqi Basrah Oil Terminal and was staffed by 18 Philippine and one Greek crew members.

The St. Nikolas has previously been involved in a dispute between Iran and the U.S.

In October, Empire Navigation said it had resolved a violation of U.S. sanctions with the U.S. Department of Justice, which determined that the vessel, then known as Suez Rajan, loaded sanctioned Iranian oil between January and February 2022 through a ship-to-ship transfer near Singapore. As part of the fallout, Empire Navigation transported the sanctioned cargo to Houston, where it could be forfeited to the DOJ.

Thursday’s incident is the latest in a series of Red Sea attacks, with Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi movement targeting commercial vessels and compounding the maritime risk of a high-traffic trade route. The Houthis say they are carrying out their activity in retaliation for Israel’s war in the Gaza Strip.

Tensions between Washington and Tehran have intensified in the wake of the Israel-Hamas conflict, with U.S. President Joe Biden warning Iran to “be careful” over any potential interference. Tehran has celebrated Hamas’ terror attack on long-standing rival Israel, but has denied involvement in the events of Oct. 7.

Oil prices are sensitive to turmoil in Middle East seas because of the possibility of supply bottlenecks. The ICE Brent futures contract with March expiry was up $.1.23 per barrel to $78.03 per barrel at 14:00 London time Thursday, while the Nymex WTI contract with February delivery was higher by $1.25 per barrel to $72.62 per barrel.

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Correction: The St. Nikolas was previously known as the Suez Rajan. An earlier version misstated its previous name.

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