A Vietnamese oil tanker was seized by Iran on Friday, the second incident in a week in which a commercial vessel has been seized over Iranian claims it flouted Western sanctions.
Iran’s official IRNA news agency and officials in Vietnam, which called the seizure a “kidnapping,” said the 50,000-tonne tanker known as the Fao, or Sea Horse, was heading from Singapore to South Korea when it was boarded by seven Iranian coast guard boats and a naval patrol boat.
IRNA said the Fao is owned by a Vietnam-registered firm that is leased to a Chinese company, and was carrying 25,000 tons of crude oil. The ship was carrying cargo from the oil-rich Iraqi Kurdistan to southeast China, according to the ship-tracking website marinetraffic.com.
Representatives for private tanker owners and insurers said that the seizure was not the first time an Iranian commercial vessel was seized or towed by a foreign ship group at Iran’s request. They said it has become increasingly common since the Islamic Republic reintroduced oil sales through a vast network of sales through third parties, keeping oil moving, albeit with lower volumes.
Vietnam’s Deputy Maritime Minister Nguyen Thi Thuy Vo said the vessel was boarded near Sidoarih Island in the strategic Gulf of Tonkin.
“It was towed by two ships belonging to a Chinese oil company and taken to an area where no ships are supposed to go,” she said.
A foreign oil trader for a Singapore-based oil company confirmed that a Vietnamese-registered tanker had been seized by another foreign ship group. He said the ship was operated by Red Sail Overseas, based in Singapore, and is owned by East Ship Management, an Iran-registered company based in the United Arab Emirates. He declined to be identified out of fear of retaliation.
A man who answered the phone at Red Sail Overseas in Singapore said “no comment” when asked about the incident. Red Sail is based in Singapore.
Vietnam’s Foreign Ministry confirmed the incident but did not give details. Vietnam ships often travel to Singapore, a commercial hub that is the main port for a number of Asian countries, particularly China, Vietnam and Malaysia.
Earlier this week, the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines reportedly seized and towed the Panama-flagged Pazflor oil tanker into Iranian waters, claiming the company had failed to pay the invoice.
The Revolutionary Guard is Iran’s powerful military force and under President Hassan Rouhani, a relative moderate, its officials are said to make more aggressive moves in pushing to increase revenue from Iran’s oil exports.
The attack on Pazflor was the second since Rouhani was inaugurated in 2013. In October 2013, a powerful storm knocked out the vessel’s engine and it was towed to Farsi Island, an Iranian facility for storing and resupplying other small Iranian oil tankers. It was refloated and anchored about 15 miles from the island and was forced to slow down for about two days to anchor in one place while officials tried to bring in different types of oil.
The Pazflor ran aground on the island in December 2014 and was left badly damaged. The tanker was eventually repaired and delivered to its original owner in Malaysia in March 2016.
The Institute for Transportation and Development Policy in Washington, D.C., said that Iran’s seizing and escorting of commercial vessels would just drive up costs for oil companies doing business with the country.
“This is a dangerous game. Iran’s seizure of commercial ships is related to its international pursuit of revenues,” ITDP said in a report released in February 2015.
In March of that year, the U.S. Treasury Department added three Iranian ship brokers and ship operators to its list of sanctioned people and entities. The Iranian ship-brokers were identified as Farhad Ejbehari, Farouq Fardad and Sahab Farrak.
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