A small oil tanker that stopped more than two days driving through a vital waterway near the Persian Gulf did not make an emergency call, causing US officials to suspect that Iran had seized the ship, American defense official said Tuesday.
MT Riah, a ship under the Panamanian flag, based in the United Arab Emirates, drove through the Strait of Hormuz on Saturday night when its tracking system went dark. The disappearance could contribute to the already intensified tensions between Iran and Western nations in the region.
"Could it have collapsed or been towed for support? That's a possibility," an unknown US official told The Associated Press. "But the longer there is no contact period, it will be a problem."
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If Iran has seized the ship, it is probably the latest in a series of provocations involving oil tankers in the region. Iran has threatened to stop tankers in the Straits if it is not allowed to sell its own oil abroad.
About 20 percent of the total crude oil passes through the Strait.
The 190-foot tanker has set the transmission of its location at 11 pm as the tracking data showed that its last position was toward Iran.
"This is a red flag," said Captain Ranjith Raja of the data company Refinitiv. He said the tanker had not turned off its tracker during three months of travel in the United Arab Emirates.
The Islamic Republic did not comment on the disappearance of the ship.
An Emirati official told AP that "we are monitoring the situation with our international partners."
Several oil tankers sailing across the Persian Gulf have been targeted as Iran continues to pursue its role as a target Campaign to facilitate US sanctions on its nuclear program.
It was recently surpassed Its uranium enrichment level was limited by the 2015 nuclear agreement, which President Trump retired over a year ago.
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Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the top Iranian leader, said Tuesday that the country would seize the seizure his Supertanker 2.1 avenges millions of barrels of light crude oil.
"If God wills, the Islamic Republic and its dedicated forces will not leave that evil without an answer," he said.
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British Royal Marines seized the vessel earlier this month off Gibraltar on suspicion of oil supply to Syrian leader Bashar Assad, in violation of European Union sanctions. On Saturday, British Foreign Minister Jeremy Hunt announced that Britain will release the ship if it is assured that it will not violate the sanctions.
In recent months, there have been mysterious attacks on oil tankers in Iran as well as the overthrow of a US drone. In response to the escalation, the US has sent thousands of troops, fighters and nuclear-capable B-52 bombers to the Middle East.
Fox News reporter and publisher Lucia l. Suarez Sang and The Associated Press have contributed to this report.