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US accuses Iran of harassing ship in Strait of Hormuz

In a recent incident in the Strait of Hormuz, the U.S. Navy and the United Kingdom Royal Navy swiftly responded to a distress call from a merchant ship that was reportedly being harassed by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard. According to the U.S. Navy, three armed fast-attack Guard vessels approached the commercial ship at close proximity, causing concern. Images captured by a U.S. Navy Boeing P-8 Poseidon aircraft revealed the presence of the small ships near the merchant vessel.

The USS McFaul and Royal Navy’s HMS Lancaster intervened, with the Lancaster deploying a helicopter in response. Fortunately, about an hour later, the situation deescalated when the merchant ship confirmed the departure of the fast-attack craft. The ship proceeded through the Strait of Hormuz without further incident.

The Strait of Hormuz is a vital passage through which approximately 20% of the world’s oil supply travels.

Although the Navy did not disclose the name of the vessel involved, ship-tracking data analyzed by the Associated Press indicated that the Marshall Islands-flagged bulk carrier Venture exhibited erratic course changes during the incident. The ship’s location aligned with the information provided by the United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations, the British military organization responsible for monitoring regional traffic. Additionally, the vessel in question resembled the images released by the U.S. Navy. Trust Bulkers, based in Athens, Greece, the registered manager of the ship, has not issued a statement yet.

At present, there has been no acknowledgment of the incident from Iranian state media or the Revolutionary Guard. The Iranian mission to the United Nations also has not responded to requests for comments.

This event is part of a series of maritime incidents involving Iran since the U.S. withdrew from the nuclear deal in 2018.

The suspected seizure of the Suez Rajan, a tanker allegedly carrying sanctioned Iranian crude oil off Singapore and linked to a U.S. private equity firm, may have triggered Iran’s recent seizure of the Marshall Islands-flagged tanker Advantage Sweet. The latter vessel was transporting Kuwaiti crude oil for Chevron Corp., an energy firm based in San Ramon, California.

While no official confirmation of the Suez Rajan’s seizure has been provided, ship-tracking data analyzed by the Associated Press indicates that the vessel is currently located off the coast of Galveston, Texas.

In a separate incident, Iran seized the Panama-flagged tanker Niovi as it departed from a dry dock in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, en route to Fujairah on the UAE’s eastern coast. Although the Niovi was empty at the time, data from S&P Global Market Intelligence reveals that it had received oil from a vessel previously known as the Oman Pride in July 2020.

In August 2021, the U.S. Treasury sanctioned the Oman Pride and other entities associated with the vessel for their alleged involvement in an international oil smuggling network that supported the Quds Force, a Guard unit operating across the Middle East. Purported leaked emails published on Wikiran, a website dedicated to sharing leaked documents from the Islamic Republic, suggest that the Niovi’s cargo was illicitly sold to Chinese firms without permission.

These recent seizures have placed additional pressure on the United States, which has long been responsible for ensuring security in the Gulf Arab nations. While the United Arab Emirates recently claimed to have withdrawn from the Combined Maritime Forces, a joint naval command, the U.S. Navy stated that the UAE’s participation in the group remains unchanged. Meanwhile, the head of the U.S. military’s Central Command visited the region and held discussions with Emirati leader Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan.

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