Iranian forces captured an internationally flagged merchant vessel in the Strait of Hormuz on Wednesday, making it the second disruption of maritime commerce in the region in less than a week.
The Panama-flagged oil tanker was en route to the United Arab Emirates port of Fujairah from Dubai when it was approached by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps on the morning of May 3, per U.S. Naval Forces Central Command.
The tanker was swarmed by a dozen naval boats and forced to change course and head toward Iran’s coast.
The Niovi is a 360-yard-long vessel capable of transporting up to 2 million barrels of crude oil, according to The Wall Street Journal.
Yet the vessel carried no cargo at the time of its unlawful seizure since it had undergone dry-dock repairs in Dubai, according to AP News.
The Niovi’s operator, the Greek company Smart Tankers, has not commented on the seizure or given information about its crew.
Another unlawful seizure of an internationally flagged commercial ship occurred last Thursday, as The Dallas Express reported. A Houston-bound oil tanker called the Advantage Sweet was taken by the Iranian navy in the Gulf of Oman.
Tehran later claimed that the ship crashed into an Iranian vessel, resulting in two crew members disappearing.
In the case of the Niovi, the Iranian judicial authorities have announced that it was impounded but did not specify why, according to AP News.
The back-to-back unlawful seizures point to escalating tensions between Tehran and the international community.
The U.S. Naval Forces Central Command referred to the actions taken by Iranian forces as “unwarranted, irresponsible and a present threat to maritime security and the global economy.”
Yet the seizures might also be acts of retaliation for the disappearance of the Marshall Island-flagged Suez Rajan in the South China Sea roughly a week ago, according to AP News.
Some have held the U.S. responsible, as the vessel was owned by a Los Angeles-based firm and allegedly carried Iranian crude oil, the trade of which was sanctioned back in 2018. Neither the company nor the U.S. government has confirmed this.
In addition, the Pentagon announced last month that it would send the USS Florida to the Red Sea in order to support U.S. forces in the Middle East, according to The Wall Street Journal. The announced deployment was a show of force as the submarine is equipped with 150 Tomahawk cruise missiles.
As The Dallas Express reported, in late March, Iranian drones struck a military base in northeast Syria, killing a U.S. contractor. While the attack was allegedly carried out by Islamist militant groups, they are believed to be supported by Tehran.
Iran also recently stepped up its involvement in the Syrian civil war, as demonstrated by the official meeting between Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on May 3 in Damascus, Syria, according to The Wall Street Journal.
Tehran’s ambitions in the Middle East are part of a larger decades-long strategy to create an “axis of resistance” against the U.S. and Israel.
The funding of this strategy relies heavily on Iran’s crude oil sales.
Recent reports from Iranian officials suggest that the U.S. sanctions have not done much to hinder these sales, according to AP News.
Last year, the Central Bank of Iran reported $18.6 billion in oil sales, which represents a doubling since 2021.