Iran seizes to ships on suspicion of fuel smuggling

Naval forces of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards have in recent days seized two Panama-flagged ships alleged by Iran to have been smuggling a total of 1.5m litres of fuel, according to Iran’s Tasnim news agency. Iran heavily subsidizes fuel for domestic consumption, making illicit exporting a profitable business.

The two ships had 37 crew members, from a number of countries, the news report on Thursday claimed. The vessels were seized on their way out of Iran.

Citing the deputy commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC)’s third naval zone, Admiral Mohammad Sharif Shirali, Tasnim said that ships named Steven and Crown had been escorted to the port of Mahshahr, and that their crew handed over to judicial authorities.

Notwithstanding Iran’s claim, it is hard to identify either of the ships positively, and a search through various databases did not throw up any likely Panamanian-flagged candidates.

Maritime security consultancy Ambrey said on Friday in a research note that an anchor handling tug supply (AHTS) vessel was detained carrying fuel hoses, pumping equipment, and lubricant drums on its deck. It linked it to a type built in Al Khobar, Saudi Arabia.

In a separate note, Ambrey said that it identified a small Panama-flagged products tanker anchored south of Bandar-e Emam Khomeini, not in the vicinity of any terminal. The vessel had moved into the area on September 4th and had not called at any port.

“Prior to her transit through Iranian territorial waters into Bandar-e Emam Khomeini, the vessel was ‘dark’. Her AIS transmissions stopped on August 31st offshore northern Saudi Arabia, and only resumed on September 4th,” Ambrey said.