An oil tanker sought by the US over allegedly circumventing sanctions on Iran was hijacked on July 5 off the coast of the United Arab Emirates, a seafarers welfare organisation said on Wednesday.
Satellite photos showed the vessel in Iranian waters on Tuesday and two of its sailors remained in the Iranian capital.
Mystery Oil tanker hijacked near UAE
It wasn’t immediately clear what happened aboard the Dominica-flagged MT Gulf Sky, though its reported hijacking comes after months of tensions between Iran and the US.
David Hammond, the CEO of the United Kingdom-based group Human Rights at Sea, said he took a witness statement from the captain of the MT Gulf Sky, confirming the ship had been hijacked.
A missing crude oil tanker subject to US government sanctions over alleged involvement in Iran’s oil exportation was hijacked, according to the ship’s captain https://t.co/iwKJ3HNRmE
— Al-Monitor (@AlMonitor) July 16, 2020
Hammond said that 26 of the Indian sailors on board had made it back to India, while two remained in Tehran, without elaborating.
We are delighted to hear that the crew are safe and well, which has been our fundamental concern from the outset,” Hammond told The Associated Press.
Hammond said that he had no other details on the vessel.
Mystery Oil Tanker back in Iranian waters?
TankerTrackers.com, a website tracking the oil trade at sea, said it saw the vessel in satellite photos on Tuesday in Iranian waters off Hormuz Island. Hormuz Island, near the port city of Bandar Abbas, is some 190 kilometres north of Khorfakkan, a city on the eastern coast of the United Arab Emirates where the vessel had been for months.
Who hijacked the mystery oil tanker? it’s not clear who hijacked and took control of the mystery oil tanker sanctioned by the US. Tanker was facing legal action in UAE, it was disembarked on a port in the UAE but then mysteriously disappeared. The very fact that it was last spotted in Iranian waters gives credence to the speculations that Iranians might have something to do with its hijacking but nothing is clear.
The vessel is tied to Amir Dianat, also known as Ameer Abdulazeez Jaafar Almthaje, who was recently designated by the U.S. Department of the Treasury for being involved in the efforts of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Qods Force (IRGC-QF) to generate revenue and smuggle weapons abroad.
The US also filed criminal charges against Dianat and one of his business associates for violations of sanctions and money laundering laws, and filed a related civil forfeiture action alleging that some $12 million is subject to forfeiture as funds involved in these crimes and as assets of a foreign terrorist organization.
US wants to extend the Arms Embargo against Iran
The oil tanker that was hijacked had been sanctioned by the US. This is in line with its other, crippling sanctions on Iran and the deteriorating relations between both countries.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had warned in late June of a return of UN sanctions on Iran if the Security Council fails to extend an arms embargo expiring in October.
The United States has put forward a resolution to extend the embargo on conventional weapons but faces opposition from veto-wielding Russia and China, which stand to win contracts with Tehran. Five years Arms Embargo is set to expire in October this year.
In addition to Russia and China, Europeans like UK and Germany are also happy with the US demand to extend the Arms Embargo. Reason is that US wants to use “Automatic Snapback clause” of the JCPOA treaty of 2015 against Iran for its accusations that Iran has been violating the JCPOA treaty – commonly referred to as Us-Iran Nuclear Deal.
But the problem is that US, under Trump Administration, had unilaterally violated the JCPOA in 2018 while Iran kept on meeting most of its commitments. US resolution can be vetoed by Russia and China. US in return threatens to bring UN sanctions against Iran.
“Our focus now is to work with Security Council to pass this resolution,” Pompeo told reporters.
“But, in the event it doesn’t happen, we remind the world that the Obama administration’s officials said very clear(ly) that the United States has the unilateral ability to snap back sanctions into place,” he said, confirming US intentions.
If the @UN Arms Embargo on Iran expires in October, Iran will be able to buy new fighter aircraft like Russia’s SU-30 and China’s J-10. With these highly lethal aircraft, Europe and Asia could be in Iran’s crosshairs. The U.S. will never let this happen. pic.twitter.com/OwV1gHFjrk
— Secretary Pompeo (@SecPompeo) June 23, 2020
The five-year ban on selling conventional arms was part of a 2015 resolution in support of a landmark nuclear deal with Iran negotiated by Obama and Kerry, from which President Donald Trump pulled out.
The Trump administration has made the novel case that the United States remains a participant in the nuclear deal — hence able to initiate the snapback of sanctions — as it was mentioned in the 2015 resolution, despite later withdrawing.
US violated JCPOA: Iran
Washington circulated a draft resolution seeking “indefinite extension” of the arms ban, with Pompeo hinting that the US will invoke a provision in the 2015 nuclear deal, also known as JCPOA to re-impose all UN sanctions against Tehran if the UN Security Council fails to extend the embargo.
Tehran, however, maintains that the US failed to meet its obligations under UN Security Council Resolution 2231 by pulling out of the deal, which renders it “incapable” of triggering snapback.
If the world body goes ahead and extends the embargo on Iran, Nasri says Iran would “probably rethink its nuclear doctrine”, its relationship with international organizations like the IAEA and even withdraw from the Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
Interestingly, a number of hardline politicians in Iran have raised the pitch in recent weeks, calling on the government to leave NPT.
News Desk with additional input from other sources