US says Iran forces board ship in Gulf of Oman

Iranian forces boarded the tanker in international waters in the Gulf of Oman, just 32 kilometres off the coast of the UAE. (US CENTCOM)
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Updated 13 August 2020

US says Iran forces board ship in Gulf of Oman

  • Special forces dropped on to ship's deck from helicopter
  • Liberian-flagged oil and chemicals tanker held for up to five hours.

DUBAI: Iranian forces boarded a tanker in international waters in the Gulf of Oman, using a helicopter and two ships to take over the vessel for several hours, US officials said.

They also posted grainy black-and-white footage of the helicopter hovering low over the vessel and special forces personnel fast-roping onto the deck.

“Today in international waters, Iranian forces, including two ships and an Iranian ‘Sea King’ helicopter, overtook and boarded a ship called the ‘Wila’,” the US Central Command said in a tweet on Wednesday.

A US defence official said the Iranians released the vessel, a Liberian-flagged oil and chemicals tanker, after holding it for four to five hours.

The incident occurred in international waters of the Gulf of Oman, just 32 kilometers off the coast of the UAE.

“Iranian special forces fast roped from the Sea King on to the ship,” the official told AFP on Thursday.

“A coalition ship monitored the event but did not receive a distress call from M/T Wila.”

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Bloomberg said the vessel had been floating off the eastern coast of the UAE for the past month but that it appeared to have picked up a shipment in July near the Iraqi oil terminal of Al-Basra.

The waters where the ship was boarded, near the Strait of Hormuz, are a chokepoint for a third of the world's seaborne oil.

Iran and its arch enemy the United States have traded barbs in the past year over a spate of incidents in the sensitive waters of the Gulf.

The escalation of Iran-US tensions last year saw ships mysteriously attacked, drones downed and oil tankers seized in the strait.

In July 2019, Iran’s Revolutionary Guards seized the British-flagged oil tanker Stena Impero in the waterway for allegedly ramming a fishing boat and released it two months later.

The Guards seized at least six other ships last year over alleged fuel smuggling.

Tensions have escalated since 2018 when US President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from a multinational accord that froze Iran's nuclear programme, and reimposed crippling sanctions on its economy.


Lebanon finds four bodies after deadly sea crossing

Updated 21 September 2020

Lebanon finds four bodies after deadly sea crossing

  • UN peacekeepers retrieved one body and rescued 36 people from a boat in trouble in international waters off the Lebanese coast
  • Families of the survivors said the boat had been adrift without food or water for around a week
BEIRUT: Lebanon has retrieved the bodies of four people including a child after they tried to flee the crisis-hit country by sea on an overloaded dinghy, the civil defense said Monday.
A week ago, UN peacekeepers retrieved one body and rescued 36 people from a boat in trouble in international waters off the Lebanese coast.
Families of the survivors said the boat had been adrift without food or water for around a week, during which time several passengers had died or jumped overboard to find help.
The bodies are presumed to be from the same ill-fated crossing.
Since Friday, “we have retrieved four bodies — belonging to two Lebanese, one of whom was a child, a young Indian man and a Syrian man,” Samir Yazbek, the head of the civil defense’s sea rescue unit, told AFP.
The bodies were found in four separate locations off the north and south coasts of the country, and the search was ongoing, he added.
The UN refugee agency said last week that 25 Syrians, eight Lebanese and three people of other nationalities had been rescued from the boat.
It is unclear how many men, women and children originally clambered aboard the dinghy, and therefore how many are still missing.
On Saturday, the navy said it would step up its searches within and outside Lebanon’s territorial waters to find any other victims.
Relatives of those who went missing from the impoverished north Lebanese city of Tripoli say the people smuggler involved in the crossing has dropped off the radar since the tragedy.
They have filed three legal complaints against the man, who they say is a well-known figure in the community.
A military source on Saturday said a person acting as an intermediary between passengers and the boat owner had been arrested.
In recent weeks, dozens of Lebanese and Syrians have tried to make the perilous sea journey from Lebanon to the Mediterranean island of Cyprus, authorities on both sides say.
The Republic of Cyprus, a European Union member, lies just 160 kilometers (100 miles) away.
Lebanon is in the throes of its worst economic crisis in decades, compounded since February by the novel coronavirus pandemic.
It is also reeling from a monster blast at Beirut’s port last month that killed more than 190 people, ravaged large parts of the capital and reignited public anger against the political class.