On May 4, 2023, Iran seized a second oil tanker in the Gulf waters in a week, escalating tensions in the already volatile region. The US Navy’s Fifth Fleet reported that the Panama-flagged oil tanker Niovi was seized by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy (IRGCN) while passing through the Strait of Hormuz. This follows the seizure of a Marshall Islands-flagged oil tanker, the Advantage Sweet, on April 27. These incidents are part of a series of seizures or attacks on commercial vessels in Gulf waters since 2019, which has raised concerns about the safety of shipping in the region.
Gulf Tensions and Shipping Security
The Gulf region has been a hotbed of tensions between the US and Iran for decades. The two countries have had a fraught relationship since the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran, which overthrew the US-backed Shah. Tensions have escalated since 2018 when the US withdrew from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), commonly known as the Iran nuclear deal, and reimposed sanctions on Iran. The US has accused Iran of destabilising the region by supporting militant groups and developing ballistic missiles, while Iran sees the US as an aggressor seeking to undermine its sovereignty.
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Shipping security has been a major concern in the Gulf due to its strategic importance as a transit point for oil exports. About a fifth of the world’s crude oil and oil products pass through the Strait of Hormuz, a narrow choke point between Iran and Oman. This makes it a potential target for attacks that could disrupt global energy supplies. In 2019, there were a series of incidents involving attacks on tankers in the Gulf, which were blamed on Iran by the US and its allies. Iran denied involvement, but tensions continued to simmer in the region.
Niovi Oil Tanker Seized
The seizure of the Niovi oil tanker on May 4 is the latest in a series of incidents that have heightened tensions in the Gulf. The US Navy’s Fifth Fleet reported that the tanker was seized by Iran’s IRGCN while passing through the Strait of Hormuz. The tanker was reportedly travelling from Dubai to the UAE’s Fujairah port when it was forced to change course by IRGCN boats. The tanker’s owner is Grand Financing Co, and it is managed by Greece-based Smart Tankers. There has been no immediate response from Smart Tankers on the incident.
In response to the seizure, Tehran’s prosecutor announced that the tanker was seized on a judicial order following a complaint by a plaintiff, but no further details were provided. The incident follows the seizure of the Marshall Islands-flagged oil tanker Advantage Sweet on April 27, which is being held by Iranian authorities in Bandar Abbas. Maritime security firm Ambrey has suggested that the Advantage Sweet’s seizure was in response to a recent seizure of an oil cargo aboard the Marshall Islands tanker Suez Rajan by the US.
Implications for Global Energy Security
The latest incident is a troubling escalation of tensions in the Gulf that could have serious implications for global energy security. The seizure of oil tankers by Iran could disrupt oil supplies and drive up prices, which would have a ripple effect on the global economy. The Strait of Hormuz is a vital transit point for oil exports, and any disruption to shipping could have a significant impact on energy markets.
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The confiscation of the Niovi oil tanker by Iran represents the most recent event in a chain of occurrences that have raised tensions in the Gulf region.The Strait of Hormuz is a critical shipping route, and tensions between the US and Iran have made the region a strategic flashpoint. To ensure the safety of commercial vessels passing through the Strait, the international community must collaborate to reduce tensions and uphold international law.