The US seizure of Iranian oil cargo preceded the seizure of an Advantage Sweet tanker Ship’s crew

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WASHINGTON, April 28 (Reuters) – The US has seized Iranian oil on a tanker at sea in recent days as part of a sanctions-enforcement operation, three sources said, and days later Iran seized another oil-laden tanker in retaliation, such a maritime security company.

With oil markets still on edge, the seizure of the cargo is the latest escalation between Washington and Tehran after years of US sanctions pressure over Iran’s nuclear program. Iran does not recognize the sanctions and its oil exports are increasing.

Tehran says its nuclear program is for civilian purposes, while Washington suspects Iran of trying to develop a nuclear bomb.

Maritime security firm Ambrey said the US confiscation occurred at least five days before Iran’s action on Thursday. “Ambrey has assessed the Iranian Navy’s seizure as a response to US action,” it said in a client briefing.

“Both tankers were Suezmax sized. Iran has previously reacted in a rebellious manner after seizing Iranian oil cargo.”

The sources familiar with the matter, who declined to be identified due to the sensitivity of the issue, said Washington has taken control of the oil cargo aboard the Marshall Islands tanker Suez Rajan after securing a previous court order. The tanker’s last reported position was on April 22 near southern Africa, ship tracking data showed.

The ship’s Greece-based manager, Empire Navigation, and the US Department of Justice did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The US Navy said Iran had seized the tanker flying the Marshall Islands flag. Advantage Sweetin the Gulf of Oman on Thursday, Tehran’s recent seizure or attack on merchant ships in sensitive Gulf waters.

Iranian state television said Friday the tanker ignored radio calls for eight hours after a collision with an Iranian boat that left several crew members injured and three missing,” Iran’s Deputy Navy Commander Rear Admiral Mostafa Tajodini told the channel.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is aware of the seizure of the Gulf of Oman and reiterates his support for international law of the sea, a UN spokesman said on Friday.

Last year, the US attempted to seize a shipment of Iranian oil near Greece, prompting Tehran to seize two Greek tankers in the Gulf. The Greek Supreme Court ordered the cargo to be repatriated to Iran. The two Greek tankers were later released.

In a move likely to escalate tensions, 12 U.S. senators Thursday called on President Joe Biden to remove Treasury Department policy hurdles that have prevented the Department of Homeland Security from seizing Iranian oil supplies for more than a year.

In 2020, Washington seized four shipments of Iranian fuel aboard foreign ships bound for Venezuela and, with the help of undisclosed foreign partners, transferred them to two other ships bound for the United States

(Reporting by Jonathan Saul in London, Timothy Gardner in Washington, additional reporting by Michelle Nichols in New York and the Dubai office; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

(c) Copyright Thomson Reuters 2023.

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