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Tanker Disappears in Arabian Gulf, Suspicions Turn to Iran

Tanker Disappears in Arabian Gulf, Suspicions Turn to Iran

Wednesday, 17 July, 2019 - 05:30
Shipping in the Strait of Hormuz. (Reuters)
Abu Dhabi, London – Asharq Al-Awsat

A small Panama-flagged oil tanker disappeared as it passed through the Hormuz Strait.

A UAE official said Tuesday MT Riah oil tanker is not owned by the UAE.

"The tanker in question is neither owned nor operated by the UAE. It does not carry Emirati personnel, and did not emit a distress call,” he said according to the UAE news agency (WAM).

"We are monitoring the situation with our international partners," he stated.

The tanker was traveling through the strait, entered Iranian waters and turned off its tracker on Sunday, leading the US to suspect Iran seized the vessel amid heightened tensions in the region, reported The Associated Press.

The concern over its status comes as Iran continues its own high-pressure campaign over its nuclear program after President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew America from the accord over a year ago.

The 58-meter (190-foot) Riah typically made trips from Dubai and Sharjah on the UAE's west coast before going through the strait and heading to Fujairah on the UAE's east coast. However, something happened to the vessel after 11 pm on Saturday, according to tracking data.

Captain Ranjith Raja of the data firm Refinitiv told the AP on Tuesday that the tanker hadn't switched off its tracking in three months of trips around the UAE. "That is a red flag," Raja said.

A US defense official later told the AP that the Riah was in Iranian territorial waters near Qeshm Island, which has a Revolutionary Guard base on it.

"We certainly have suspicions that it was taken," the official said. "Could it have broken down or been towed for assistance? That's a possibility. But the longer there is a period of no contact ... it's going to be a concern."

A CNN reporter tweeted earlier that US intelligence increasingly believed that the tanker had been forced into Iranian waters by Revolutionary Guards naval forces. But the reporter added that other Gulf sources said it had simply broken down and may have been towed by Iranian vessels.

Iran's IRNA news agency quoted Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi as saying Iran had helped an unnamed tanker by towing it to an Iranian port, without elaborating.

The report did not identify the ship, nor explain the malfunction and the lack of a distress call or any crew contact with home.

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