Dubai: U.S. military officials said Thursday that amid increasing tensions between Tehran and the United States, the Iranian Navy boarded and briefly seized a Liberian-flag oil tanker near the strategic Strait of Hormuz.
The U.S. Military Central Command released a black-and-white video showing what appeared to be special forces quickly landing from a helicopter to Mount Willa. The final location of Mount Willa seems to be Khorfakkan near the eastern coastal city of the United Arab Emirates.
A U.S. Navy official said that the Iranian Navy held it on hold for about five hours before putting it on hold on Wednesday. He spoke with the Associated Press on condition of anonymity to discuss details that have not been made public. The official said Willa did not call for help before, during or after the seizure.
The Iranian helicopter involved appears to be the Sikorsky SH-3 Sea King, and only the Iranian Navy is operating. The Iranian Navy also handles all operations in the Gulf of Oman on the east side of the Strait of Hormuz, and 20% of all oil trade passes through this business. The Central Command said that two other Iranian naval vessels participated in the seizure.
US military officials did not provide any reason for Iran to seize the ship. Iran’s official media and officials did not acknowledge the seizure or provide reasons.
Officials of the UAE, a coalition of US allies of seven emirates on the Arabian Peninsula, did not respond to requests for comment.
According to UN records, the registered owner of Willa is a company called Bandit Shipping Co. in Liberia, managed by the Greek company IMS SA. IMS did not respond to a request for comment, but was unable to reach Bandit Shipping.
According to data from data company Refinitiv, Wila left Khor Al Zubair in Iraq in early July and went to Khorfakkan near Dubai, where he stayed for about a month. It is not clear what goods are being shipped.
Dryad Global, a private maritime intelligence company, said that based on the behavior of the ships, it is suspected that the other two ships were also harassed by the Iranian Paramilitary Revolutionary Guards in the Persian Gulf last week.
Last year, due to the unilateral withdrawal of the United States from the 2015 nuclear agreement, tensions between Iran and the United States intensified, and tankers sailing in the waters of the Middle East became targets, especially near the narrow straits of the Persian Gulf. The United States blamed Iran for the suspicious limpet mine attack, which targeted several oil tankers. Iran denied that it was actually involved, although it did confiscated several oil tankers.
In July, after allegedly smuggling Iranian crude oil, an oil tanker sought by the United States was “hijacked” off the coast of the United Arab Emirates. The ship later returned to Iranian waters, indicating that Iran had confiscated the ship.