Iran seized a tanker with Iraqi crude destined for Turkey on Thursday in retaliation for the confiscation last year of the same vessel and its oil by the United States, Iranian state media reported, a move likely to stoke regional tensions.
The seizure of the Marshall Islands-flagged St Nikolas coincides with weeks of attacks by Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebels targeting Red Sea shipping routes.
“After the theft of Iranian oil by the United States last year, St Nikolas tanker was seized by Iran’s Navy this morning with a judicial order … it is en route to Iranian ports,” the semi-official Fars news agency reported, citing a statement by the Navy.
The St Nikolas was seized by the United States last year in a sanctions enforcement operation when it sailed under a different name, Suez Rajan. Following the move, Iran warned the US that it would “not go unanswered.”
The St Nikolas was boarded by armed intruders as it sailed close to the Omani city of Sohar, according to British maritime security firm Ambrey, and its AIS tracking system was turned off as it headed in the direction of the Iranian port of Bandar-e-Jask.
The ship loaded 145,000 metric tons of oil in the Iraqi port of Basra and was heading to Aliaga in western Turkey via the Suez Canal, its operator Empire Navigation told Reuters, adding that it had lost contact with the vessel.
While Yemen’s Houthis have since October attacked commercial vessels in the Red Sea to show support for the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas in its fight against Israel, those incidents have been concentrated on the Bab al-Mandab Strait, to the southwest of the Arabian Peninsula.
Thursday’s incident is located closer to the Strait of Hormuz, between Oman and Iran.
The vessel is manned by a crew of 19 including 18 Filipino nationals and one Greek national, the operator said, adding it was chartered by Turkish oil refiner Tupras.
The United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) authority said earlier on Thursday it had received a report that a vessel located around 50 nautical miles east of Oman’s coast was boarded by four to five armed persons.
The armed intruders were reported to be wearing military-style black uniforms and black masks.
The UK authority, which provides maritime security information, said it was unable to make further contact with the vessel and authorities were still investigating the incident.
The United States Navy’s Fifth Fleet did not immediately respond to a request for comment or further information.
The Suez Rajan was carrying more than 980,000 barrels of Iranian crude oil last year when it was seized and the oil confiscated in the US sanctions enforcement operation.
The United States said at the time that Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), a US-designated terrorist organization, had been trying to send contraband Iranian oil to China, in violation of US sanctions.
The vessel was unable to unload the Iranian crude for nearly two and half months over fears of secondary sanctions on vessels used to unload it. It was renamed the St Nikolas after unloading the cargoes.
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Washington Says It Will Not Back Expanded IDF Operations in Rafah
i24 News – Medics reported that Israeli airstrikes overnight in Gaza’s Rafah claimed the lives of 17 individuals on Saturday.
The attacks come as tensions escalate, with over a million Palestinians densely packed into the border city, awaiting a potential full-scale offensive amid widespread destruction across the enclave and limited avenues of escape.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office announced plans for military action, aiming to evacuate Rafah’s population and dismantle four Hamas battalions allegedly stationed in the area.
As IDF prepares for an intense ground operation in Rafah, its efforts to create safe corridors for Palestinian civilians are made more difficult by the fighting ongoing throughout Gaza. @mcauliffe_marym joins @Nicole_Zedek with the latest updates: pic.twitter.com/83PJfNMEdd
— i24NEWS English (@i24NEWS_EN) February 10, 2024
Unlike previous conflicts where civilians were urged to seek refuge in southern Gaza, the current situation presents a dilemma as there are no relatively unscathed areas left, leaving residents with nowhere to flee. Aid agencies have warned of the potential for a significant loss of civilian lives should an assault on Rafah occur.
Reports from Gaza City indicate intensified fighting on Saturday, with residents reporting clashes amid the ongoing hostilities.
An Israeli official, speaking on condition of anonymity to Reuters, disclosed plans to coordinate the relocation of Rafah residents northward in anticipation of potential military action. However, Egypt has stated its refusal to permit mass displacement of Palestinians into its territory,.
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Numerous Weapons Discovered in UNRWA Premises in Gaza
i24 News – The IDF revealed that it had discovered, in the areas of Shati and Tel al-Hawa in northern Gaza, twenty terrorist infrastructure sites including a tunnel entrance near an UNRWA school. The tunnel, an “important part of Hamas’ military intelligence services,” passed under the building which serves as the main headquarters of UNRWA in the Gaza Strip.
Large quantities of weapons were found in rooms of the building, including rifles, ammunition, grenades and explosives. Intelligence and documents discovered in the offices of UNRWA officials confirmed that these offices had also been used by Hamas terrorists, the military claims.
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Qatar Says Hamas ‘Promises’ Hostages Received Medicines, But Offers no proof
i24 News – In a recent development, Qatar has informed both Israel and France that Hamas has purportedly agreed to ensure that hostages receive the essential medicines delivered to them in the Gaza Strip.
Last month, Qatar facilitated the transfer of these crucial drugs to Gaza following a comprehensive list compiled with input from the hostages’ respective doctors. The medications in question are deemed “vital,” primarily aimed at addressing chronic illnesses among the hostages.
This development comes amidst ongoing efforts to address the welfare and medical needs of the hostages held in Gaza, with international stakeholders closely monitoring the situation for further updates.
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