Dubai, United Arab Emirates — Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guards seized two Greek oil tankers in helicopter raids in the Persian Gulf on Friday, officials said. The action appears to be in retaliation for Athens’ aid in the US seizure of crude oil from an Iranian-flagged tanker this week in the Mediterranean Sea for violating Washington’s crippling sanctions against the Islamic Republic.
The raid marks the first major incident at sea in months as tensions remain high between Iran and the West over its tattered nuclear deal with world powers. As Tehran enriches more uranium, closer than ever to weapons-grade levels, concerns are growing that negotiators won’t find a way back to the deal, raising the risk of more war. wide.
The Guard issued a statement announcing the seizures, accusing the tankers of unspecified violations. Nour News, a website close to Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, had earlier warned that Tehran planned to take ‘punitive action’ against Greece for helping the US seize the oil days earlier. of the tanker Lana flying the Iranian flag.
Greece’s foreign ministry said it had made a strong representation to Iran’s ambassador in Athens over the “violent takeover of two Greek-flagged ships” in the Persian Gulf. “These acts effectively amount to acts of piracy,” said a statement from the ministry.
The ministry called for the immediate release of the ships and their crews, warning that the seizure would have “particularly negative consequences” in bilateral relations and in Iran’s relations with the European Union, of which Greece is a member.
An Iranian helicopter landed on the Greek-flagged Delta Poseidon in international waters, some 22 nautical miles from the Iranian coast, the ministry said.
“Armed men then captured the crew,” he added, adding that two Greek nationals were among the crew.
“A similar incident was reported on another Greek-flagged vessel, which was carrying seven Greek citizens, near the Iranian coast,” the ministry said.
A Greek official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss details of the attack with a reporter, identified the second ship as the Prudent Warrior. Its director, Polembros Shipping in Greece, said earlier that the company was “cooperating with the authorities and doing everything possible to effectively remedy the situation”.
Greek officials did not identify the nationalities of other crew members aboard the ships.
Both vessels came from Iraq’s Basra oil terminal loaded with crude, according to tracking data from MarineTraffic.com. Just before, Prudent Warrior was off Qatar and likely loaded oil there as well, according to the data.
A US defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters, said it appeared the two ships approached Iranian territorial waters on Friday, but not in them. . After the diversion, they drifted into Iranian waters. The ships had also turned off their tracking devices – another red flag, the official said. However, neither had issued a mayday or a call for help, the official said.
Iran’s seizure on Friday was the latest in a series of hijackings and explosions to rock a region that includes the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow mouth of the Persian Gulf through which a fifth of all oil traded passes. The incidents began after then-President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew the United States from the nuclear deal between Iran and world powers, which saw Tehran drastically limit its uranium enrichment in exchange the lifting of economic sanctions.
The US Navy has blamed Iran for a series of limpet mine attacks on ships that damaged tankers in 2019, as well as a deadly drone attack on an Israel-linked tanker that killed two operatives European crews in 2021.
Iranian hijackers also stormed and briefly captured a Panamanian-flagged tanker off the United Arab Emirates last year, and briefly seized and detained a Vietnamese tanker in November.
Tehran denies carrying out the attacks, but a wider shadow war between Iran and the West has been unfolding in the region’s turbulent waters. Tanker seizures have been one of them since 2019, when Iran seized the British-flagged Stena Impero after the UK detained an Iranian tanker off Gibraltar. Iran released the tanker months later as London also released the Iranian ship.
Last year, Iran also seized and detained a South Korean-flagged tanker for months in a dispute over billions of dollars in frozen assets held by Seoul.
“This incident is considered a retaliatory action in line with the history of Iranian forces detaining vessels in a tit-for-tat manner,” maritime intelligence firm Dryad Global warned. “As a result, Greek-flagged vessels operating in the vicinity of Iran in the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman are currently assessed as being at increased risk of interception and are advised to avoid this area until further notice. order.”
Underlining this threat, Iran’s semi-official Tasnim news agency warned in a tweet: “There are still 17 more Greek ships in the Persian Gulf that could be seized.”
Meanwhile, the Guard is building a massive new support vessel near the Strait of Hormuz as it tries to expand its naval presence in waters vital to international energy supplies and beyond, according to satellite photos obtained by the Associated Press.
Talks in Vienna over Iran’s tattered nuclear deal have stalled since April. Since the collapse of the deal, Iran has been using advanced centrifuges and has a rapidly growing stockpile of enriched uranium. Non-proliferation experts warn that Iran has sufficiently enriched up to 60% purity – a short technical step from military-grade levels of 90% – to manufacture a nuclear weapon if it so chooses.
Iran insists its program is for peaceful purposes, although United Nations experts and Western intelligence agencies say Iran had an organized military nuclear program until 2003.
Building a nuclear bomb would take Iran even longer if it pursued a weapon, analysts say, though they warn Tehran’s advances make the program more dangerous. Israel has threatened in the past to carry out a preemptive strike to stop Iran – and is already suspected in a series of recent killings targeting Iranian officials.
Paphite reported from Athens, Greece. Associated Press writer Amir Vahdat in Tehran, Iran, contributed to this report.