US, Iran dispute facts of tanker incident in Sea of Oman
Washington (AFP) – The United States and Iran gave sharply differing accounts Wednesday of an incident involving a Vietnamese-flagged oil tanker in the Sea of Oman, in the latest incident in the heavily trafficked seaway.
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Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) said they had thwarted an attempt last week by the US Navy to seize the vessel carrying its oil.
But a US defense official called the Iranian explanation "inaccurate and untrue," saying two US ships in the area watched Iranian forces "swarming, boarding and seizing the vessel and take it to Iranian waters."
In a statement on its website Sepahnews, the IRGC said US forces had seized the tanker laden with oil and "transferred its cargo to another tanker."
The IRGC's naval forces, with air support, subsequently captured the second tanker, thwarting a second attempt by the US Navy to retake the vessel, according to the statement.
The report said that the "Americans had left the area" and that the tanker had docked at Bandar Abbas port at 8:00 am (0430 GMT) on October 25.
The US official, speaking on grounds of anonymity, rejected that account.
The official said the two US vessels, together with aerial support, only watched the operation by IRGC forces.
"We were directed to closely monitor, and not to engage," the official said.
Aerial videos posted by Iran's Fars news agency show US naval vessels and much smaller Iranian speedboats following and circling the tanker, but give no clarity on the circumstances of the incident.
The incident came in the wake of a series of attacks on commercial vessels in the sea lanes serving the Gulf, where a large portion of the world's oil is produced and shipped.
Iran was blamed for a July 29 drone strike on an Israel-linked tanker sailing off the coast of Oman, the MV Mercer Street, that killed a former British soldier and Romanian national.
Iran denied that, as well as accusations it was behind other attacks and hijackings in the area.
The argument over last week's tanker incident comes amid faltering efforts to revive Iran's nuclear deal with world powers that would see a lifting of US sanctions on its oil exports.
President Joe Biden has expressed willingness to rejoin the deal in exchange for Iran returning to the limits on its nuclear activities, but talks on the practicalities have been suspended since June.
© 2021 AFP