Iran says it seized oil tanker boarded by armed men in Gulf of Oman

Iran says it seized oil tanker boarded by armed men in Gulf of Oman
There were 19 crew onboard the St Nikolas when the gunmen boarded. (SUPPLIED)
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Updated 12 January 2024

Iran says it seized oil tanker boarded by armed men in Gulf of Oman

Iran says it seized oil tanker boarded by armed men in Gulf of Oman
  • 19 crew aboard the ship at the time of being boarded
  • Tracking system believed to have been turned off and ship head towards Iran

DUBAI: Iran confirmed on Thursday that its navy seized an oil tanker in the Gulf of Oman that was reported to have been boarded by armed men.

Five masked gunmen wearing black military style uniforms boarded the crude oil tanker, according to the United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO).

Iran's state-run television acknowledged the seizure late Thursday afternoon, hours after armed men boarded it.
“The violating oil tanker Suez Rajan ... stole Iranian oil by leading it to the Americans and delivered it to the Americans,” state TV said. It said Iran's navy, rather than its paramilitary Revolutionary Guard, conducted the seizure. Past tense incidents at sea have largely involved the Guard.

Earlier, the Saudi-owned news station Al Arabiya posted on claims made by Iranian state TV that it had detained an American oil tanker in the Arabian Sea, but did not name the vessel, or make reference directly to the St Nikolas.

The St. Nikolas crude oil tanker’s owners have told Arab News they lost contact with the ship early Thursday morning.

The incident was reported 50 nautical miles east of Oman’s Sohar.

Security experts say the ships tracking system has been turned off and the vessel is believed to be headed towards Iran.

A spokesperson at Empire Navigation, managers of M/T St. Nikolas, confirmed to Arab News reports that they lost contact with their vessel at approximately 06:30 a.m. Athens time (04:30 GMT) “as she was sailing off the coast of Oman, close to Sohar. The vessel is manned with total 19 crew members: 18 Filipino and one of Greek Nationality.”

“The vessel had loaded the previous days in Basrah (Iraq) a cargo of about 145,000 metric tonnes of crude oil destined to Aliaga (Turkey), via the Suez Canal. The charterer of the vessel is Tupras.”

“Empire Navigation have activated their emergency plan, notified the pertinent authorities and are making every effort to restore communication with the St.Nikolas.”

Reuters cited the US private intelligence firm Ambrey as saying the tanker’s automatic identification system had been turned off, adding that the tanker was headed in the direction of Bandar-E-Jask in Iran.

The website of the UKMTO, which provides warnings to sailors in the Middle East, stated: “UKMTO has received a report of vessel being boarded by 4-5 armed unauthorised persons at approximately 0330UTC in an area 50NM East of Sohar, Oman.” 

“Unauthorised boarders are reported to be wearing military style black uniforms with black masks.”

“CSO reports vessel has altered course towards Iranian teritorial waters and communications with the vessel have been lost. Authorities are investigating.”

An earlier report on the site stated: “CSO reports hearing unknown voices over the phone along with the Masters voice. Unable to make further contact with vessels at this time. Authorities are investigating”.

Earlier reports advised vessels in the area to “transit with caution and report any suspicious activity to UKMTO.”

AP said that those boarding the ship had covered the surveillance cameras as they boarded.

The ongoing incident comes just a day after the UN Security Council adopted a resolution condemning “in the strongest terms” multiple Houthi attacks on ships in the Red Sea over the past two months.

The incident currently has an amber status on the UKMTO website, indicating that a “Robbery, Boarding, Suspicious approach” has taken place. A red status would signify “Attack, Hijack, Incident, Kidnap”.

Tensions have grown in the seas off the Arabian Gulf in recent days, with Yemen’s Houthi militia saying on Wednesday that it carried out a retaliation strike on the US Navy in the Red Sea with multiple missiles and drones.

On this occasion American and British navy ships shot down 21 Houthi drones.

British Defense Minister Grant Shapps said, Wednesday that the continuation of Houthi attacks in the Red Sea was “completely unacceptable”.

Shapps previously said on Jan.1 that Britain was “willing to take direct action” against Iran-backed Houthi militia in Yemen who have repeatedly attacked vessels in the Red Sea.

The St Nikolas is a Crude Oil Tanker that was built in 2011 and is sailing under the flag of the Marshall Islands, it is associated with the Greek shipping company Empire Navigation.

Attention began focusing on the Suez Rajan in February 2022, when the group United Against Nuclear Iran said it suspected the tanker carried oil

from Iran’s Khargh Island, its main oil distribution terminal in the Persian Gulf.

Satellite photos and shipping data analyzed at the time by the AP supported the allegation.

For months, the ship sat in the South China Sea off the northeast coast of Singapore before suddenly sailing for the Texas coast without explanation. The vessel discharged its cargo to another tanker in August, which released its oil in Houston as part of a Justice Department order.

In September, Empire Navigation pleaded guilty to smuggling sanctioned Iranian crude oil and agreed to pay a $2.4 million fine over a case involving the tanker when it operated under the name Suez Rajan, which carried some 1 million barrels of oil.

(With agencies)

In Congress speech, Netanyahu defends war in Gaza and denounces protesters

In Congress speech, Netanyahu defends war in Gaza and denounces protesters
Updated 14 sec ago

In Congress speech, Netanyahu defends war in Gaza and denounces protesters

In Congress speech, Netanyahu defends war in Gaza and denounces protesters
  • Netanyahu’s speech quickly took on a darker tone as he defended his country but also derided those protesting the war
  • He drew shouts of applause from many in Congress, but also silence from leading Democrats

WASHINGTON: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu defended Israel’s war in Gaza and condemned American protesters in a scathing speech to Congress Wednesday that triggered boycotts by many top Democratic lawmakers and drew thousands to the Capitol to condemn the war and the humanitarian crisis it has created.
Netanyahu vowed to press on with the war until “total victory,” disappointing hopes by some that the Israeli leader’s visit to the United States could bring some breakthrough in negotiations for a ceasefire and hostage-release.
Speaking to applause from US lawmakers, and stony silence from others, Netanyahu sought to bolster US support for his country’s fight against Hamas and other Iran-backed armed groups.
“America and Israel must stand together. When we stand together something really simple happens: We win, they lose,” said Netanyahu, who wore a yellow pin expressing solidarity with the Israeli hostages held by Hamas.
But the Israeli leader soon pivoted to a darker tone as he derided those protesting the war on college campuses and elsewhere in the US, gesturing to demonstrations happening on the streets outside the Capitol. He called protesters “useful idiots” for Israel’s adversaries.
He drew shouts of applause from many in Congress, but also silence from leading Democrats who declined to stand and cheer.
Freed former hostages of Hamas and families of hostages listened in the House chamber. Lawmakers of both parties rose to applaud the Israeli leader in milder moments in the speech. Security escorted out protesters in the gallery who rose to display T-shirts with slogans demanding that leaders close a deal ending the conflict and freeing hostages.
Netanyahu accused the numerous protesters of the war in the United States of standing with the militants who he said killed babies in Hamas’ attack on Oct. 7. “These protesters that stand with them, they should be ashamed of themselves,” he said.
Netanyahu — who is frequently accused of wading into US politics in favor of conservative and Republican causes — started his remarks with praise of President Joe Biden. But he turned to lavishing praise on former president and current presidential contender Donald Trump “for all he’s done for Israel.”
With criticism against him rising in Israel, too, Netanyahu aimed to portray himself as a statesman respected by Israel’s most important ally. That task is complicated by Americans’ increasingly divided views on Israel and the war, which has emerged as a key issue in the US presidential election.
Tall steel barriers ringed the Capitol Wednesday, and police deployed pepper spray as thousands of protesters rallied near the Capitol, denouncing Netanyahu as a “war criminal” and calling for a ceasefire.
Netanyahu received a warm welcome from House Speaker Mike Johnson and other Republican lawmakers who arranged his speech in the House chamber. Netanyahu received a bipartisan standing ovation before speaking.
The appearance made Netanyahu the first foreign leader to address a joint meeting of Congress four times, surpassing Winston Churchill.
More than 50 Democrats and political independent Bernie Sanders boycotted Netanyahu’s speech. The most notable absence was right behind him: Vice President Kamala Harris, who serves as president of the Senate, said a long-scheduled trip kept her from attending.
The next Democrat in line, Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, declined to attend, so Sen. Ben Cardin, the chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, served as “senator pro tempore” in place of her.
Rep. Rashida Tlaib, a Michigan Democrat who has family in the West Bank, sat in the House chamber with a keffiyeh, which she often wears, wrapped over her shoulders. Tlaib was censured last year for her strident criticism of Israel’s conduct in the war.
Republicans said the absence of Harris, the new Democratic front-runner for the presidency, was a sign of disloyalty to an ally. Former President Donald Trump’s running mate, JD Vance, was also a no-show for Netanyahu’s speech, citing the need to campaign.
Netanyahu is scheduled to meet with President Joe Biden and Harris on Thursday, and with Trump at Mar-a-Lago on Friday.
Many in the swelling crowds of demonstrators protested the killings of more than 39,000 Palestinians in the war. Others condemned Netanyahu’s inability to free Israeli and American hostages taken by Hamas and other militants during the Oct. 7 attack that sparked the war.
Support for Israel has long carried political weight in US politics. But the usual warm welcome for Netanyahu’s visits has been diminished this time around by political turmoil, including the assassination attempt against Trump and Biden’s decision not to seek another term.
Many Democrats who support Israel but have been critical of Netanyahu saw the address as a Republican effort to cast itself as the party most loyal.
Many Democrats attended the address despite their criticism of Netanyahu, including Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, who called for new elections in Israel in a March floor speech. Schumer, of New York, said then that Netanyahu has “lost his way” and is an obstacle to peace in the region amid the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.
About 60 lawmakers met Wednesday with relatives of those taken hostage by Hamas, and they expressed anger toward Netanyahu. “Because by coming here, he risks making himself the issue, turning the humanitarian issue of the hostages into a political one,” Maya Roman, who had several family members taken hostage, told the lawmakers.
The United States is Israel’s most important ally, arms supplier and source of military aid. Netanyahu’s visit is his first abroad since the war started, and comes under the shadow of arrest warrants sought against him by the International Criminal Court over alleged Israel war crimes against Palestinians. The United States does not recognize the ICC.
The Biden administration says it wants to see Netanyahu focus his visit on helping it complete a deal for a ceasefire and hostage-release. Growing numbers of Israelis accuse Netanyahu of prolonging the war in order to avoid a likely fall from power whenever the conflict ends.
Netanyahu has said his aims for the US visit are to press for freeing hostages held by Hamas and other militants in Gaza, to build support for continuing Israel’s battle against the group, and to argue for continuing to confront Hezbollah in Lebanon and other Iranian-allied groups in the region.
Some Democrats are wary about Netanyahu since he used a 2015 joint address to Congress to denounce then-President Barack Obama’s pending nuclear deal with Iran.
Netanyahu used an appearance early Wednesday to focus on Iran, its nuclear program and its network of armed allies. Iran is “behind the entire axis of terror” that threatens the US and Israel, he said, speaking at a memorial for former Sen. Joe Lieberman.

Putin meets Syria’s Assad in Moscow

Putin meets Syria’s Assad in Moscow
Updated 2 min 49 sec ago

Putin meets Syria’s Assad in Moscow

Putin meets Syria’s Assad in Moscow
MOSCOW: Russian President Vladimir Putin met Syrian President Bashar Assad in the Kremlin, the president’s press service said on Thursday.
“I am very interested in your opinion on how the situation in the region as a whole is developing,” Putin told Assad. “Unfortunately, there is a tendency toward escalation, we can see that. This also applies directly to Syria.”
The Kremlin said the meeting took place on Wednesday.
“Considering all the events that are taking place in the world as a whole and in the Eurasian region today, our meeting today seems very important to discuss all the details of the development of these events, to discuss possible prospects and scenarios,” Assad told Putin through a Russian translator.

Hamas slams Israel PM for ‘misleading’ speech to US Congress

Hamas slams Israel PM for ‘misleading’ speech to US Congress
Updated 25 July 2024

Hamas slams Israel PM for ‘misleading’ speech to US Congress

Hamas slams Israel PM for ‘misleading’ speech to US Congress

Hamas said Wednesday that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was “misleading” the international community after he addressed the US Congress and called for expedited military aid to his country.

“Netanyahu’s talk about intensified efforts to return the hostages is a complete lie and misleading Israeli, American and international public opinion, while he is the one who thwarted all efforts aimed at ending the war and concluding a deal to release the prisoners, despite the continuous efforts of mediators from our brothers in Egypt and Qatar,” the Palestinian militant group said in a statement.

Israeli forces retrieve bodies of five hostages from Gaza

Israeli forces retrieve bodies of five hostages from Gaza
Updated 25 July 2024

Israeli forces retrieve bodies of five hostages from Gaza

Israeli forces retrieve bodies of five hostages from Gaza
  • The army, in a rescue operation, brought to Israel the bodies of hostages Maya Goren and Oren Goldin, the kibbutzim Nir Oz and Nir Yitzhak said in separate statements

JERUSALEM: Israeli forces recovered on Wednesday the bodies of five hostages killed in Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack and held in Gaza since, the Israeli military said.
Maya Goren, a 56-year-old kindergarden teacher, was killed during the attack on her kibbutz, Nir Oz, according to Israeli Army Radio, one of the communities worst hit in the deadly attack in southern Israel that triggered the devastating war.
The other four hostages were two reserve soldiers and two conscript soldiers killed in combat during the Oct. 7 attack, the military said.
Their bodies were retrieved from the area of Khan Younis in southern Gaza, where Israeli forces launched new raids this week.
The five had been listed among 120 hostages still in Gaza, about a third of whom Israel has declared dead in absentia, based on forensic findings, intelligence, interrogations of captured militants, videos and testimony of released hostages.
In a speech to the US Congress on Wednesday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said his government was actively engaged in intensive efforts to release the remaining hostages which he was confident would succeed.
An Israeli delegation would participate in talks to secure a Gaza ceasefire and hostage release — mediated by the United States, Egypt and Qatar — next week, an Israeli official said on Wednesday.
Hamas wants a ceasefire agreement to end the war in Gaza, but Netanyahu says the war cannot end before Hamas is defeated.

Hundreds killed in first 10 days of hostilities in south Lebanon

Hundreds killed in first 10 days of hostilities in south Lebanon
Updated 25 July 2024

Hundreds killed in first 10 days of hostilities in south Lebanon

Hundreds killed in first 10 days of hostilities in south Lebanon
  • Foreign Affairs Committee met with ambassadors from the EU, Switzerland, Norway, Britain, and Canada to present the results of the ongoing Israeli attacks on southern Lebanon
  • Hezbollah released a new video recorded by the Hudhud drone within Israel, showcasing footage from inside the Ramat David Air Base

BEIRUT: Thousands of attacks on South Lebanon have resulted in the death of nearly 540 people and hundreds more injured since hostilities began on July 15, according to MP Fadi Alama, the head of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the Lebanese parliament.

The MP said 538 people had died and 1,850 injured in the 5,736 attacks.

The Foreign Affairs Committee met on Wednesday with several ambassadors from the EU, Switzerland, Norway, Britain, and Canada to present the results of the ongoing Israeli attacks on southern Lebanon, as part of preparations for “the government’s work in the post-ceasefire phase.”

MP Alama said that “representatives of diplomatic missions and international organizations were surprised when we talked about 1,800 hectares intentionally burned by the Israeli enemy. They were also surprised by the number of schools that were targeted and the number of students who were unable to complete their education and moved to other places. Additionally, they were informed of the 28,000 new families who have been displaced from areas that are being targeted daily.”



The parliamentarian said there was urgency for the government to develop a plan and a roadmap as soon as possible.

MP Wael Abu Faour, a member of the Parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee, stated that “the human, health, urban, agricultural, and environmental losses as a result of Israeli attacks have become enormous. Initial estimates from Lebanese institutions indicate a cost of approximately two $2 billion so far, in addition to other damages and losses.”

Abu Faour said: “This is a new challenge for the Lebanese state that must be dealt with in Lebanon’s Arab and international relations. The state is bankrupt and unable to bear such responsibilities, but at the same time, it cannot abandon its responsibilities towards its citizens regardless of any controversial local political considerations regarding the feasibility of war or its justifications among some parties.”

Hostilities between Hezbollah and the Israeli army continued on Wednesday. According to Israeli media, “43 settlements were evacuated in the north, (and) more than 1,500 buildings, cars, and infrastructure were damaged in the north. Additionally, six industrial zones were affected, and hundreds of businesses were forced to close due to Hezbollah strikes.”

Israel targeted the towns of Kafr Shuba, Tayr Harfa, and Hula on Wednesday with airstrikes and artillery shelling. A raid also targeted a house in the town of Kfar Hammam, leading to its destruction. This small village is located in Hasbaya District on the eastern side of Nabatieh Governorate.

Hezbollah released a new video recorded by the Hudhud drone within Israel, showcasing footage from inside the Ramat David Air Base, located approximately 50 km from the Lebanese border.

According to Hezbollah, “the footage was captured on Tuesday using a drone.”

The new eight-minute video released by Hezbollah showcases several sensitive areas within the base, including aircraft fuel tanks, the headquarters of Squadron 109, an Iron Dome missile defense platform, and ammunition depots. It also reveals the locations of the Squadron 157 and Squadron 105 headquarters. Hezbollah included an image of the base commander’s office, exposing intricate details of the facility.

This is not the first time Hezbollah has employed such tactics. Previously, the group broadcast aerial footage of critical installations captured by similar unmanned aerial vehicles in Haifa and the Golan Heights.

Israeli media reacted strongly, with one outlet stating: “Over eight minutes of Hezbollah video exposing our vulnerability is a disgrace.”

The Israeli military, however, downplayed the incident, claiming the footage was captured by a drone designed solely for photography and did not affect base operations.

A Hezbollah source linked the timing of the video release to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to Washington.

Amid these developments, the Israeli military announced on Wednesday that its “reserve brigade has completed a drill simulating war scenarios in Lebanon.”

Israeli National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir expressed support for a comprehensive war against Hezbollah, stating: “The sooner, the better.”

However, Israel’s Ambassador to Russia Simona Halperin maintained that while Tel Aviv is prepared for military confrontation with Lebanon, it still prefers a diplomatic solution.

She emphasized that Israel is not interested in a large-scale war. “We cannot dismiss a scenario where Israel might be compelled to engage in a wide-ranging war on the northern front,” she added.

Coinciding with Israel’s war rhetoric, the Canadian Embassy in Lebanon issued a renewed advisory to its citizens.

It called on “Canadians, permanent residents, their spouses, and dependent children to heed travel advisories and leave the country while commercial flights are available.”

The embassy emphasized its focus on assisting individuals in obtaining necessary travel documents and keeping families together during this process.

This escalation comes as thousands of Lebanese expatriates with dual citizenship from Canada, the US, and Europe have arrived in Lebanon for summer vacations.