ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – Iraq’s Ministry of Oil on Sunday said it has no connections with the oil tanker that Iran announced it had recently seized and accused of smuggling fuel.
Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) forces on Sunday said they had detained the ship, Hita, off the coast of Farsi Island in the Persian Gulf. Iranian state media IRNA later reported the vessel was carrying diesel, estimated at around 4,400 barrels, and claimed it was Iraqi.
“The ministry does not export diesel to international markets,” Iraqi oil ministry spokesperson, Assim Jihad, said in a statement as quoted by Iraqi media outlets. He added that the relevant authorities were investigating the incident.
Jihad stated further, “The tanker is one of the small ones that the oil ministry does not deal with in shipping oil and its derivatives.”
The IRGC claimed that the seizure of the ship occurred on Wednesday, adding that it was smuggling fuel to “Arab countries” in the Persian Gulf without providing evidence. There were also seven crew members aboard.
The tanker capture comes amid increasing tensions between Iran and the West. Earlier this year, six tankers were attacked in Gulf waters for which the White House blamed Tehran. In late June, the IRGC claimed to have shot down a US drone, which, Iran says, had breached its airspace.
Since then, the security situation in the region has become increasingly volatile, with the US seeking an international coalition to keep the waterway safe. Washington last year abandoned the nuclear deal between Iran and international powers, and reimposed sanctions on Iran. The White House recently also sanctioned Iran’s Foreign Minister, Javad Zarif.
Further escalating regional tensions, the IRGC has so far reported the capture of three vessels in the strategic waterways to its south. On July 19, Iran seized a British-flagged ship in the Strait of Hormuz in an apparent retaliation to the British naval forces’ capture of an Iranian ship off the coast of Gibraltar, which they claimed was on its way to Syria.
Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani recently hinted at the possibility of an exchange of tankers between the two countries, but London has rejected this. The new British Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab, stated during a BBC interview last week that the UK insists on upholding “international law and the rules of the international legal system.”
Regional as well as international powers are keeping an eye on the Gulf, through which a significant portion of the world’s oil supply is exported. The UK has deployed a warship to the region to protect its tankers.
Editing by Nadia Riva