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

  • 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)

UAE food aid shipment arrives in Gaza

Updated 19 May 2024

UAE food aid shipment arrives in Gaza

  • Shipment arrived via the maritime corridor from Larnaca in Cyprus

DUBAI: A UAE aid shipment carrying 252 tons of food arrived in Gaza bound for the north of the enclave, Emirates News Agency reported on Sunday.

The shipment arrived via the maritime corridor from Larnaca in Cyprus. The delivery involved cooperation from the US, Cyprus, UK, EU and UN.

The supplies were unloaded at UN warehouses in Deir Al-Balah and are awaiting distribution to Palestinians in need.

Emirati Minister of State for International Cooperation Reem Al-Hashimy said that the food supplies will be delivered and distributed in collaboration with international partners and humanitarian organizations, as part of the UAE’s efforts to provide relief and address the humanitarian crisis in the Gaza Strip.

The UAE, in accordance with its historical commitment to the Palestinian people and under the guidance of its leadership, continues to provide urgent humanitarian aid and supplies to Gaza, she added.

Since the war began in October, the UAE has delivered more than 32,000 tons of urgent humanitarian supplies, including food, relief and medical supplies, via 260 flights, 49 airdrops and 1,243 trucks.

The UAE delivery came as Israel closed the Rafah border crossing. The World Health Organization said on Friday that it has received no medical supplies in the Gaza Strip for 10 days.

Helicopter carrying Iran's President Raisi makes rough landing, Iranian media say

Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi and his Azeri counterpart Ilham Aliyev meet at the site of Qiz Qalasi.
Updated 19 May 2024

Helicopter carrying Iran's President Raisi makes rough landing, Iranian media say

  • IRNA said the helicopter in question had been carrying Raisi, Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian and local officials

DUBAI: A helicopter carrying Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and his foreign minister made a rough landing on Sunday as it was crossing a mountainous area in heavy fog on the way back from a visit to Azerbaijan, Iranian news agencies said.
The bad weather was complicating rescue efforts, the state news agency IRNA reported. The semi-official Fars news agency urged Iranians to pray for Raisi and state TV carried prayers for his safety.
IRNA said the helicopter in question had been carrying Raisi, Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian and local officials.
Interior Minister Ahmed Vahidi told state TV only that one of the helicopters in a group of three had come down hard, and that authorities were awaiting further details.
Raisi, 63, was elected president at the second attempt in 2021, and since taking office has ordered a tightening of morality laws, overseen a bloody crackdown on anti-government protests and pushed hard in nuclear talks with world powers.
In Iran’s dual political system, split between the clerical establishment and the government, it is the supreme leader rather than the president who has the final say on all major policies.
But many see Raisi as a strong contender to succeed his mentor, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has strongly endorsed Raisi's main policies.

Israel war cabinet minister says to quit unless Gaza plan approved

Updated 19 May 2024

Israel war cabinet minister says to quit unless Gaza plan approved

  • Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu dismisses comments as "washed-up words"
  • Broad splits emerge in Israeli war cabinet as Hamas regroups in northern Gaza

JERUSALEM: Israeli war cabinet minister Benny Gantz said Saturday he would resign from the body unless Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu approved a post-war plan for the Gaza Strip.

“The war cabinet must formulate and approve by June 8 an action plan that will lead to the realization of six strategic goals of national importance.. (or) we will be forced to resign from the government,” Gantz said, referring to his party, in a televised address directed at Netanyahu.

Gantz said the six goals included toppling Hamas, ensuring Israeli security control over the Palestinian territory and returning Israeli hostages.

“Along with maintaining Israeli security control, establish an American, European, Arab and Palestinian administration that will manage civilian affairs in the Gaza Strip and lay the foundation for a future alternative that is not Hamas or (Mahmud) Abbas,” he said, referring to the president of the Palestinian Authority.

He also urged the normalization of ties with Saudi Arabia “as part of an overall move that will create an alliance with the free world and the Arab world against Iran and its affiliates.”

Netanyahu responded to Gantz’s threat on Saturday by slamming the minister’s demands as “washed-up words whose meaning is clear: the end of the war and a defeat for Israel, the abandoning of most of the hostages, leaving Hamas intact and the establishment of a Palestinian state.”

The Israeli army has been battling Hamas militants across the Gaza Strip for more than seven months.

But broad splits have emerged in the Israeli war cabinet in recent days after Hamas fighters regrouped in northern Gaza, an area where Israel previously said the group had been neutralized.

Netanyahu came under personal attack from Defense Minister Yoav Gallant on Wednesday for failing to rule out an Israeli government in Gaza after the war.

The Gaza war broke out after Hamas’s attack on October 7 on southern Israel which resulted in the deaths of more than 1,170 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of Israeli official figures.

The militants also seized about 250 hostages, 124 of whom Israel estimates remain in Gaza, including 37 the military says are dead.

Israel’s military retaliation against Hamas has killed at least 35,386 people, mostly civilians, according to the Hamas-run Gaza’s health ministry, and an Israeli siege has brought dire food shortages and the threat of famine.

US, Iranian officials met in Oman after Israel escalation

Updated 19 May 2024

US, Iranian officials met in Oman after Israel escalation

  • Washington called on Tehran to rein in proxy forces
  • Officials sat in separate rooms with Omani intermediaries passing messages

LONDON: US and Iranian officials held talks in Oman last week aimed at reducing regional tensions, the New York Times reported.

Through intermediaries from Oman, Washington’s top Middle East official Brett McGurk and the deputy special envoy for Iran, Abram Paley, spoke with Iranian counterparts.

It was the first contact between the two countries in the wake of Iran’s retaliatory missile and drone attack on Israel in April.

The US officials, who communicated with their Iranian counterparts in a separate room — with Omani officials passing on messages — requested that Tehran rein in its proxy forces across the region.

The US has had no diplomatic contact with Iran since 1979, and communicates with the country using intermediaries and back channels.

Since the outbreak of the Gaza war last October, Iran-backed militias — including Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Houthis in Yemen, and armed groups in Syria and Iraq — have ramped up attacks on Israeli and American targets.

But US officials have determined that neither Hezbollah nor Iran want an escalation and wider war.

After Israel struck Iran’s consulate in Damascus at the beginning of April, Tehran retaliated with hundreds of ballistic missiles and drones.

The attack — which was intercepted by air defense systems from Israel, the US and the UK, among others — was the first ever direct Iranian strike on Israel, which has for years targeted Iranian assets in Syria, whose government is a close ally of Tehran.

National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said in a news conference this week that the “Iranian threat” to Israel and US interests “is clear.”

He added: “We are working with Israel and other partners to protect against these threats and to prevent escalation into an all-out regional war through a calibrated combination of diplomacy, deterrence, force posture adjustments and use of force when necessary to protect our people and to defend our interests and our allies.”

Death toll from Israeli strike on Nuseirat rises to 31: Gaza officials

Updated 19 May 2024

Death toll from Israeli strike on Nuseirat rises to 31: Gaza officials

  • Rescue workers continuing to search for missing people under the rubble
  • Heavy Israeli bombardments have been reported in the central Nuseirat camp

GAZA STRIP, Palestinian Territories: Gaza’s civil defense agency said Sunday that an Israeli air strike targeting a house at a refugee camp in the center of the Palestinian territory killed at least 31 people, updating an earlier toll.

“The civil defense crew were able to recover 31 martyrs and 20 wounded from a house belonging to the Hassan family, which was targeted by the Israeli occupation forces in the Nuseirat camp,” Gaza civil defense agency spokesman Mahmud Bassal told journalists.

He said rescue workers were continuing to search for missing people under the rubble.

Earlier on Sunday the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital had said it had received the bodies of 20 people killed in the strike which witnesses said occurred around 3:00 am local time.

The Israeli army when contacted by AFP asked for specific coordinates of the strike.

Palestinian official news agency Wafa reported that the wounded included several children.

Fierce battles and heavy Israeli bombardments have been reported in the central Nuseirat camp since the military launched a ground operation on the southern city of Rafah in early May.

Palestinian militants and Israeli troops have also clashed in north Gaza’s Jabalia camp for days now.

Witnesses said several other houses were targeted in air strikes during the night across Gaza, and that strikes and artillery shelling also hit parts of Rafah during the night.

The Israeli military said two more soldiers were killed in Gaza the previous day.

The military said 282 soldiers have been killed so far in the Gaza military campaign since the start of the ground offensive on October 27.