Reason for Iran’s latest moves on commercial ships are unclear, says Pentagon

The US has admitted that it remained puzzled by Iran’s recent increased aggression towards commercial tankers in the Arabian Gulf.

“Why the Iranians are doing this at this moment is not at all clear to us,” said Colin Kahl, Under Secretary of Defence for Policy, on Friday July 7th. He added that the Pentagon was operating under the assumption that it would not be the last time Iran tried to make such moves against commercial vessels.

Iran had been seeking to confiscate the Richmond Voyager (IMO 9827683), a tanker operated by US energy company Chevron on the grounds that it had damaged an Iranian vessel in the Persian Gulf on July 5th, before illegally rerouting to territorial waters of Oman.

Iram claimed that five people had been seriously injured in the collision between the Richmond Voyager and the Iranian ship, which it declined to identify.

The US Navy said it sent guided-missile destroyer USS McFaul to respond to a distress call from the Richmond Voyager off the coast of Oman in international waters. It said Iranian authorities had asked the tanker to stop and had fired shots, but that the Iranian navy vessel left quickly when the USS McFaul arrived.

Chevron said that the crew was safe and that the vessel was operating normally. It told Reuters on Friday that the Richmond Voyager had not been involved in any collision. A company spokesman said that “Chevron has not received any notification of legal proceedings, court order or otherwise from Iran. Further, contrary to some sources, the Richmond Voyager was not involved in any collision in the Arabian Gulf.”

Earlier the US Navy had responded to an incident involving oil tanker TRF Moss (IMO 9732826) in the same region.

Tracking of the Richmond Voyager prior to the alleged “incident” showed no suspicious turns or stops or speed reduction after it left Ju Aymah Oil Terminal Saudi Arabia late on June 30th. It anchored at Khor Fakkan anchorage, UAE, on July 2nd and remained anchored until July 4th .

Meanwhile, Iran’s Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) Navy said that it had seized a tanker vessel carrying 900 tons of smuggled fuel in the Persian Gulf waters. Fars news agency reported on Thursday that the naval forces of the IRGC had confiscated the vessel and also arrested all the 12 crew members onboard.

No further details about the identity of the vessel and the nationality of its crew members were announced.

At first sight this appeared to be unrelated to the concurrent spat with international tankers of high repute.

A report by Fars news agency in late April claimed that Iran was losing some $4bn a year to fuel smuggling. Iran subsidizes oil for the domestic market, which makes the product attractive to smuggling exporters The April report said that about 5m litres a day of petrol intended for Iranian motorists was being smuggled out of the country on Iran’s southeastern and southern borders. Those figures also claimed that about 10m litres a day of diesel are as being smuggled out of Iran amid lax controls in some Iranian power plants.

2018-built, Bahamas-flagged, 163,214 gt Richmond Voyager is owned by Replica Marine Co care of manager Chevron Transport Corp Ltd of San Ramon, California, USA. It is entered with UK Club on behalf of Chevron Transport Corp.

2016-built, Marshall Islands-flagged, 23,861 gt TRF Moss is owned by WLR/TRF HMN8 Holdings VI LLC care of manager Navig8 Chemicals Asia Pte Ltd of Singapore. ISM manager is Fleet Management Ltd HKG of Hong Kong, China. It is entered with Skuld (Skuld Nordics and Eastern Europe) on behalf of TRF Ship Management AS.