Vietnam negotiates release of seized tanker with Iran


HANOI, Vietnam (AP) – Vietnam was seeking more information on Thursday about a Vietnamese tanker that was seized at gunpoint last month by Iranian soldiers in the Gulf of Oman, while promising to ensure the safety and humane treatment of the ship’s crew.

On October 24, powerful Iranian Revolutionary Guard paramilitary troops seized control of the MV Southys, a ship that analysts suspect of trying to transfer sanctioned Iranian crude oil to Asia. US forces had monitored the seizure but ultimately took no action as the vessel entered Iranian waters.

The episode was the latest provocation in Middle Eastern waters as tensions escalate between Iran and the United States over Tehran’s nuclear program.

Vietnamese officials “continue to monitor developments closely and work closely with Iranian authorities to resolve this issue in accordance with the law and adopt necessary measures to protect the rights and interests of Vietnamese nationals,” Pham Thu Hang, deputy spokesperson for the Vietnamese Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Business, said Thursday.

The captain of the MV Southys told the Vietnamese Embassy in Iran that the 26 crew members were treated well and were in “normal health,” Hang told reporters at a scheduled briefing.

Iran celebrated its capture of the ship in dramatic footage aired on state television on Wednesday, the day before the 42nd anniversary of the 1979 seizure of the US embassy in Tehran.

Vessel tracking data analyzed by the Associated Press of MarineTraffic.com showed the vessel was still off Iran’s southern port of Bandar Abbas on Tuesday. A satellite photo from Planet Labs Inc. also showed the ship off Bandar Abbas in recent days.

Iranian state television offered a series of contradictory reports on a confrontation between the Guard and the US Navy’s 5th Fleet based in the Middle East. State television sought to portray the incident as an act of US aggression against Iran in the Gulf of Oman, with the US Navy arresting an oil tanker carrying Iranian oil and guarding it releasing it and returning it to the Republic. Islamic.

Asked about Iran’s claim of US aggression, Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said it was false and that it was Iran that had grasped what he described as a merchant ship in the Gulf of Oman on October 24.

“This is a false claim,” Kirby said of the Iranian claim. “The only seizure that was made was by Iran.” He declined to cite the nationality of the seized vessel, saying it was up to that country to discuss it.

Kirby said that the boarding and seizure of the vessel by Iran “constituted a flagrant violation of international law which undermines the freedom of navigation and the free flow of commerce”.

Tehran also did not provide the ship’s name, other details, or any explanation as to why the navy might target it. The Iranian mission to the United Nations did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

State television broadcast footage showing an Iranian surveillance drone monitoring a huge red tanker in the Gulf of Oman. Heavily armed Iranian commandos then rappelled onto the boat from a helicopter as small speedboats circled the ship, and an Iranian catamaran patrolled the waters.

The video appeared to show Iranian Guard troops pointing machine guns mounted on the open deck onto the USS The Sullivans, an Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer. Photos released by the US military show the Sullivans recently in the Arabian Sea near the Gulf of Oman.

A shipping database showed that the last registered owner of the Southys was OPEC Petrol Transportation Co., a company with an address in Hanoi. On Thursday, an office worker admitted to an incident involving the Southys but referred the questions to another employee who was not there. This employee did not immediately return a request for comment.

However, the Southys were on the radar of United Against a Nuclear Iran, a New York-based advocacy group that has long been suspicious of the Islamic Republic. In a letter dated Oct. 11 to the Vietnamese Maritime Administration, the group said its analysis of satellite photos showed the Southys had received a ship-to-ship oil transfer in June from an oil tanker called Oman Pride.

The US Treasury identified Oman Pride in August as being used to transport Iranian oil as part of a smuggling program to enrich the Quds Guard Expeditionary Force. This Iranian oil ends up being sold in East Asia, the Treasury said, without identifying a specific country.

Iran’s seizure of the Southys is believed to be the latest in a series of hijackings and explosions to rock the Gulf of Oman, which lies near the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow mouth of the Persian Gulf by which passes a fifth of all oil traded.

The US Navy has accused Iran of 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 crew earlier this year. Just a few months ago, Iranian hijackers stormed and briefly captured a Panama-flagged asphalt tanker off the coast of the United Arab Emirates.

Tehran denies carrying out the attacks, but a larger phantom war between Iran and the West has unfolded in the volatile waters of the region since President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the Iran nuclear deal in 2018 and imposed crushing sanctions on the country.

___

Associated Press editors Isabel DeBre in Dubai, Amir Vahdat in Tehran, Iran, and Robert Burns and Matthew Lee in Washington contributed to this report.

Photograph: This screenshot from a video posted by the Iranian paramilitary Revolutionary Guards on Wednesday, November 3, 2021, shows the guard’s fast boats, center, in front of a US warship, left, in the middle of the seizure of a Vietnamese-flagged tanker, right, in the Gulf of Oman. Iran seized the oil tanker in the Gulf of Oman last month and still owns the ship, two US officials told The Associated Press on Wednesday, exposing the latest provocation in Middle Eastern waters amid tensions s ‘are stepping up between Iran and the United States over Tehran’s nuclear program. Source: Guardians of the Revolution via AP.

Copyright 2021 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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