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
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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 X.com 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)


Red Cross says 22 killed in shelling near Gaza office

Updated 22 June 2024
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Red Cross says 22 killed in shelling near Gaza office

  • “This grave security incident is one of several in recent days,” Red Cross says
  • Humanitarian organization says Gaza office was ‘damaged’ in a shell attack Friday 

GENEVA: The International Committee of the Red Cross said its Gaza office was ‘damaged’ by in a shell attack Friday that killed at least 22 people who had taken shelter around the compound.
The ICRC did not say who fired the “heavy calibre projectiles” but in a statement on the X platform said they “damaged the structure of the ICRC office,” which is surrounded by hundreds of displaced persons living in tents.
It said 22 bodies and 45 wounded had been taken to a nearby Red Cross field hospital after the shelling, and there were “reports of additional casualties.”
“Heavy-calibre projectiles landed within meters of the office and residences of the International Committee of the Red Cross on Friday afternoon,” the statement said.
“Firing so dangerously close to humanitarian structures, of whose locations the parties to the conflict are aware and which are clearly marked with the Red Cross emblem, puts the lives of civilians and Red Cross staff at risk,” said the body.
“This grave security incident is one of several in recent days,” it added.
“Previously stray bullets have reached ICRC structures. We decry these incidents that put the lives of humanitarians and civilians at risk.”

 


Red Cross says 22 killed in shelling near Gaza office

Updated 22 June 2024
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Red Cross says 22 killed in shelling near Gaza office

  • It said 22 bodies and 45 wounded had been taken to a nearby Red Cross field hospital after the shelling, and there were “reports of additional casualties”

GENEVA: The International Committee of the Red Cross said its Gaza office was ‘damaged’ by in a shell attack Friday that killed at least 22 people who had taken shelter around the compound.
The ICRC did not say who fired the “heavy calibre projectiles” but in a statement on the X platform said they “damaged the structure of the ICRC office,” which is surrounded by hundreds of displaced persons living in tents.
It said 22 bodies and 45 wounded had been taken to a nearby Red Cross field hospital after the shelling, and there were “reports of additional casualties.”
“Heavy-calibre projectiles landed within meters of the office and residences of the International Committee of the Red Cross on Friday afternoon,” the statement said.
“Firing so dangerously close to humanitarian structures, of whose locations the parties to the conflict are aware and which are clearly marked with the Red Cross emblem, puts the lives of civilians and Red Cross staff at risk,” said the body.
“This grave security incident is one of several in recent days,” it added.
“Previously stray bullets have reached ICRC structures. We decry these incidents that put the lives of humanitarians and civilians at risk.”

 


Merchant vessel reports explosion in its vicinity off Yemen’s Aden

Updated 22 June 2024
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Merchant vessel reports explosion in its vicinity off Yemen’s Aden

  • The Yemeni militant Houthi group has been launching drone and missile strikes in the key waterway since November in what it says is solidarity with Palestinian militants in Gaza

DUBAI: A merchant vessel reported an explosion in its vicinity 126 nautical miles east of Yemen’s port city of Aden, the United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) said late on Friday.
“The crew are reported safe and the vessel is proceeding to its next port of call,” UKMTO said in an advisory note, without identifying the vessel.
The Yemeni militant Houthi group has been launching drone and missile strikes in the key waterway since November in what it says is solidarity with Palestinian militants in Gaza.
In over 70 attacks, the group has sunk two vessels, seized another and killed at least three seafarers.

 


Qatar working to ‘bridge the gap’ between Israel and Hamas

Updated 22 June 2024
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Qatar working to ‘bridge the gap’ between Israel and Hamas

  • Qatar-based Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said in a statement that the Palestinian Islamist movement was open to “any document or initiative that ensures the foundations of the resistance’s position in ceasefire negotiations”
  • Israel has killed at least 37,431 people in Gaza, also mostly civilians, according to the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry

MADRID: Qatar said Friday it was pursuing efforts to “bridge the gap” between Israel and Palestinian militant group Hamas to reach a ceasefire in Gaza and release Israeli hostages held there.
The Gulf emirate, the United States and Egypt, have been engaged in months of negotiations for a ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas war that erupted on October 7.
There has been one seven-day pause in November which led to the release of more than 100 hostages. Efforts since have been deadlocked.
“We have continued our efforts without interruption over the last few days,” Qatar’s Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani told a news conference in Madrid with Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Albares.
“There have been several meetings with the Hamas leadership to try to bridge the gap between the two parties and reach an agreement that will lead to a ceasefire and the release of the Israeli hostages,” he added.
The talks are based on a plan US President Joe Biden laid out on May 31 calling for an Israeli withdrawal from “major population centers” in Gaza and a six week ceasefire, which could be extended if negotiators need more time to seek a permanent deal.
“Efforts are continuing, but so far we have not reached a formula that we feel is the most appropriate and closest to what has been presented,” the Qatari prime minister said.
“As soon as this is done, we will communicate with the Israeli side to try to bridge the gap and reach an agreement as quickly as possible,” he added.
Qatar-based Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said in a statement that the Palestinian Islamist movement was open to “any document or initiative that ensures the foundations of the resistance’s position in ceasefire negotiations.”
Hamas has insisted on the complete withdrawal of Israeli forces from Gaza and a permanent ceasefire before the release of all hostages sought by Israel. The Israeli goverment has rejected the demands.
Haniyeh said “the priority is to stop the criminal war on our people.”
The Gaza war was sparked by Hamas’s October 7 attack on southern Israel, which resulted in the deaths of 1,194 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.
Militants also took 251 hostages, 116 of whom remain in Gaza, including 41 the army says are dead.
Israel’s retaliatory offensive has killed at least 37,431 people in Gaza, also mostly civilians, according to the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry.
 

 


Lebanon’s FM meets with UN, French and US envoys in bid to prevent full-scale war

Updated 22 June 2024
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Lebanon’s FM meets with UN, French and US envoys in bid to prevent full-scale war

  • Lebanon counts on success of US diplomatic efforts to prevent full-scale war
  • Former ambassador to US tells Arab News: ‘No one has an interest in open war’

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s Foreign Affairs Minister Abdallah Bou Habib met with French Ambassador Herva Magro, the UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, and US Ambassador Lisa Johnson on Friday.

The minister reiterated Lebanon’s call for the full implementation of UN Resolution 1701.

Hennis-Plasschaert said there was “no inevitability (to wider conflict with Israel)” during her visit to UN peacekeepers in southern Lebanon.

Also on Friday, it was announced that German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock will make shuttle visits to Lebanon, Israel, and the West Bank.

Concerned at the risk of Israel’s war on Gaza spreading across the region, US President Joe Biden sent his special envoy Amos Hochstein to embark on a new round of diplomacy last week. Hochstein called for “urgent” de-escalation during talks with Lebanon and Israel on Tuesday, informing both sides that “the threat of a full-scale war persists and must be avoided.”

It is widely believed in Lebanon that Hochstein convinced Israel to refrain from escalating its military actions against Lebanon for the time being.

In a meeting with visiting Israeli officials including National Security Advisor Tzachi Hanegbi and Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer in Washington on Thursday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken underscored the importance of “avoiding further escalation in Lebanon and reaching a diplomatic resolution that allows Israeli and Lebanese families to return to their homes,” according to a statement.

According to his spokesperson, Matthew Miller, Blinken also stressed America’s “unwavering commitment to Israel’s security.”

During his talks in Beirut, Hochstein reportedly reassured Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati that Biden’s proposal for a ceasefire in Gaza was being viewed positively, and that Qatar was working to make it happen.

Hochstein also reportedly told Mikati that “things are under control and positive when it comes to the war between Lebanon and Israel.”

Former Lebanese Ambassador to Washington, Riad Tabbarah, described threats of war as a “mere outburst.”

He told Arab News: “Since military operations began on the southern front about nine months ago, the Lebanese have been hearing that war is coming, but it never arrives.

“During diplomatic negotiations, it is common for both sides to face pressure and threats,” he continued. “It appears that there are numerous and diverse negotiations happening behind the scenes, including discussions between the Americans and Iranians, as well as between the Americans and Hezbollah.”

Tabbarah acknowledged the recklessness of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and said the Israeli leader “has two options — either war or prison. And there is significant pressure on him, especially from the families of the hostages.”

Tabbarah noted that there are limits to what military action can achieve. “We still recall the time when former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon crossed those limits in 1982 when he set the Litani Line as his target. However, he went beyond that and reached Beirut. As a result, international powers united to bring him back to the Litani Line.

“No one has an interest in war,” he continued. “Americans, Europeans, and Iranians are working in the opposite direction. The general trend is to avoid escalating to open war.”

Military operations on the Lebanese front decreased significantly on Friday, although the outskirts of Naqoura in the western sector were targeted by Israeli artillery, causing a fire in a house. In the morning, an Israeli military raid targeted the town of Wazzani.

Hezbollah made a series of announcements about their operations, which were “focused on specific targets within the rules of engagement.”

Hezbollah attacked the sites of Ramtha and Samaka in the occupied Lebanese Kfar Shouba Hills, the Zabadin site in the occupied Lebanese Shebaa Farms, and carried out an air attack using drones on the Ras Al-Naqoura naval site, aiming at locations containing Israeli military personnel.

The Lebanese Ministry of Health said that, up to June 19, it has recorded a total of 1,774 casualties, including 432 fatalities, caused by Israeli attacks.