TEHRAN: Iran’s Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said Saturday that Iran took the oil from two Greek tankers last month in helicopter-launched raids in the Arabian Gulf.
The confiscations were in retaliation to Greece’s role in the US seizure of crude oil from an Iranian-flagged tanker the same week in the Mediterranean Sea over violating Washington’s harsh sanctions on the Islamic Republic.
“They steal Iranian oil off the Greek coast, then our brave men who don’t fear death respond and seize the enemy’s oil tanker,” Khamenei said during an 80-minute speech on the anniversary of the death of the late founder of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.
The seizures ratcheted up tensions between Iran and the West already simmering over Iran’s tattered 2015 nuclear deal with world powers. Tehran has been enriching more uranium, closer to weapons-grade levels than ever before, causing concern that negotiators won’t find a way back to the accord and raising the risk of a wider war.
Iran’s seizure of the tankers was the latest in a string of hijackings and explosions to roil a region that includes the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow mouth of the Arabian Gulf through which a fifth of all traded oil passes. The incidents began after then-President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew the US from the nuclear deal, which saw Tehran drastically limit its enrichment of uranium in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions.
The US Navy blamed Iran for a series of limpet mine attacks on vessels that damaged tankers in 2019, as well as for a fatal drone attack on an Israeli-linked oil tanker that killed two European crew members in 2021.
Iran also briefly captured a Panama-flagged asphalt tanker off the UAE last year and briefly seized and held a Vietnamese tanker in November.
Tehran denies carrying out the attacks but a wider shadow war between Iran and the West has played out in the region’s volatile waters.
Tanker seizures have been a part of it since 2019, when Iran seized the British-flagged Stena Impero after the UK detained an Iranian oil tanker off Gibraltar. Tehran released the tanker months later as London also released the Iranian vessel.
Iran last year also seized and held a South Korean-flagged tanker for months amid a dispute over billions of dollars of frozen assets Seoul holds.
Satellite images analyzed by AP on Wednesday confirmed that one of the two tankers remained off the coast of the Iranian port city of Bandar Abbas. The Planet Labs PBC images from Tuesday showed the Prudent Warrior between Bandar Abbas and Iran’s Qeshm Island near the strategic Strait of Hormuz, the narrow mouth of the Arabian Gulf through which a fifth of all the world’s oil traded passes.
It remained unclear where the second ship, the Delta Poseidon, was.
However, the shipping monitoring service TankerTrackers.com said on Saturday that it located Delta Poseidon on the northeast coast of Qeshm Island.
The tanker was reportedly moved from its previous location on Larak island, which has been one of Iran's major oil export points since 1987.
UPDATE: DELTA POSEIDON has now been relocated from Larak Island to a spot off the northeast coast of Qeshm Island, so the two tankers are now separated by merely a nautical mile. We expect them to remain here for the duration of their captivity by the IRGC. SkySat pic by @planet pic.twitter.com/ITJTsBGPre
— TankerTrackers.com, Inc. (@TankerTrackers) June 3, 2022