DUBAI – The Associated Press reviewed satellite pictures Sunday that show two oil tankers recently captured by Iran near the coast of one of its key port cities on the critical Strait of Hormuz.
Planet Labs PBC pictures from Saturday showed the Advantage Sweet and the Niovi anchored just south of Bandar Abbas, near a naval station in Iran’s Hormozgan region. Their detention is just the latest ship seizure carried out by Iran in the midst of tensions with the West over its fast expanding nuclear program, though it appears the two ships were captured for different reasons.
On April 27, Iran captured the Marshall Islands-flagged Advantage Sweet, which was manned by 23 Indians and one Russian. Although tracking data for the Advantage Sweet showed no abnormal behavior on its journey, Tehran claimed the vessel had collided with another ship. Iran has previously claimed ship seizures in order to cover for the vessels being taken to be used as pawns in negotiations with the West.
At the time of its arrest, the Advantage Sweet was transporting Kuwaiti crude oil for the American petroleum firm Chevron Corp. of San Ramon, California. And its seizure comes after another vessel suspected of transporting Iranian crude vanished from an anchorage off the coast of Singapore a year ago after being recognized as attempting to avoid US sanctions.
According to the Financial Times and the maritime intelligence service Ambrey, the ship Suez Rajan was arrested on the orders of American officials. Officials from the United States and those involved with the Suez Rajan have not replied to inquiries concerning the tanker’s disappearance while on its way west.
The Niovi, a Panama-flagged tanker, was detained on Wednesday as it departed a dry dock in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, destined for Fujairah on the UAE’s eastern coast by Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard. While not carrying any cargo, data obtained by the AP from S&P Global Market Intelligence revealed that the Niovi received oil from a ship known as the Oman Pride in July 2020.
The US Treasury sanctioned the Oman Pride and others linked with it in August 2021 for being “involved in an international oil smuggling network” that aided the Quds Force, the Revolutionary Guard’s expeditionary unit that operates across the Middle East.
Separately, claimed emails published online by Wikiran, a website that solicits leaked documents from the Islamic Republic, suggest that the Niovi’s cargo was sold to Chinese enterprises without authorisation.
United Against a Nuclear Iran, which has tracked sanctioned crude exports by Tehran, “strongly suspects the seizure of the Niovi is related to a dispute over a shipment of Iranian oil,” according to Claire Jungman, the organization’s head of staff. Iran claims it seized the Niovi in response to an unnamed court ruling in Tehran.
The Niovi’s managers did not return numerous phone calls seeking comment. According to the Greek Coast Guard, the Niovi was manned by Greek, Filipino, and Sri Lankan sailors.