Iranian state media has claimed that Iranian Revolutionary Guards have seized a foreign ship in Gulf waters for smuggling diesel. However, IRGC Commander Colonel Ahmad Hajian did not specify the date of the seizure, the flag of the ship, the nationality of the crew or any other details about the vessel concerned.
“A foreign ship carrying smuggled diesel was seized,” Iran’s state broadcaster quoted Hajian, the commander of the Naval Type 412 Zulfaqar, as saying.
“After inspection, more than 150,000 litres of smuggled diesel were discovered,” he added. Hajian said that the ship’s 11 crew members were detained for interrogation.
Hajian said, his unit would “deal decisively” with fuel smuggling in the sea in order to protect the Iranian economy
On November 10th the IRGC announced the release of Vietnamese-flagged tanker Sothys (IMO 9253064), which they had seized in October in the Sea of Oman in an incident that saw a minor confrontation with US Naval forces, as well as two completely different accounts of the sequence of events leading up to the arrest (IMN November 5th, November 8th, November 12th).
As is often the case with Iranian state media announcements, it pays to look at whether the timing is fortuitous. The latest reported arrest comes as Iran is preparing to resume talks with major powers aimed at ending a standoff over its nuclear deal. The IRGC has also just claimed that nine Iranian sailors were killed in clashes with US forces.
Admiral Alireza Tangsiri, the top naval officer in the IRGC, said on Sunday November 21st in a speech at the former US embassy complex in Tehran, that some of the encounters between US and Iranian naval units had gone unreported. As with the alleged arrested ship above, the speaker was light on details. He did not specify when or where the fatalities took place.
“We have slapped the Americans on the number of martyrs of the IRGC Navy in a direct battle with the United States in the Persian Gulf, although the reports of many Iranian-American clashes in the Persian Gulf have not been released,” Tangsiri told state-owned outlet the Tehran Times. “For nine martyrs in a direct battle with the Americans, we were able to give them nine memorable slaps.”
Although the US Navy has reported many close approaches by IRGC attack boats in the Strait of Hormuz, including incidents in which US warships fired flares and warning shots, neither side has ever reported a fatality in these minor spats.
The October 24th dispute over the tanker Sothys (see above) was unusual in that it was a higher-intensity confrontation that made it onto Iranian state TV. A US Navy destroyer approached what turned out to be the Sothys after it had been boarded by IRGC forces in the Persian Gulf – according to the US, in international waters.
Iranian units ultimately seized and diverted the tanker with the support of a flotilla of IRGC attack boats. The US Department of Defence said in a statement that it monitored the boarding but did not intervene.
The Iranian Navy is in some need of good propaganda after losing an important vessel in unclear circumstances. In June a severe fire sank its largest vessel – the training and support ship Kharg – during an exercise off the port of Jask. The casualty was officially attributed to an engine room fire.
2003-built, Vietnam-flagged 58,166 gt Sothys is owned and managed by OPEC Petrol Transportation Co of Hanoi City, Vietnam.