Dubai, United Arab Emirates
A Vietnamese tanker previously seized by Iran was free in open water on Wednesday, ending the latest maritime confrontation involving Tehran amid stalled negotiations over its tattered nuclear deal with world powers.
The Sothys left a position off the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas on Wednesday and reached international waters in the neighboring Gulf of Oman, data analyzed by the Associated Press of MarineTraffic.com showed. The ship appeared to be anchored there, but there was no information on its crew.
Shahrokh Nazemi, spokesman for the Iranian mission to the United Nations, told the PA on Wednesday that “Sothys left Iranian waters last night after transferring the oil.”
Vietnamese officials could not be reached for comment, although their officials previously admitted trying to get more information about the seizure from Iran.
The US Navy’s 5th Fleet, based in the Middle East, declined to comment.
On October 24, powerful Iranian Revolutionary Guard paramilitary troops seized control of the MV Sothys, a ship that analysts suspect of trying to transfer sanctioned Iranian crude oil to Asia. US forces had monitored the seizure but ultimately took no action as the vessel entered Iranian waters.
Iran then celebrated its capture of the ship in dramatic footage aired on state television on the eve of the 42nd anniversary of the 1979 seizure of the U.S. embassy in Tehran.
The Sothy’s were on the radar of United Against a Nuclear Iran, a New York-based advocacy group that has long been suspicious of the Islamic Republic. In a letter dated Oct. 11 to the Vietnamese Maritime Administration, the group said its analysis of satellite photos showed the Sothys received a ship-to-ship oil transfer in June from an oil tanker called Oman Pride.
The US Treasury identified Oman Pride in August as being used to transport Iranian oil as part of a smuggling program to enrich the Quds Guard Expeditionary Force. This Iranian oil ends up being sold in East Asia, the Treasury said, without identifying a specific country.
Iran’s seizure of the Sothys is believed to be the latest in a series of hijackings and explosions in the Gulf of Oman, which lies near the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow mouth of the Persian Gulf through which a fifth passes. of all the oil traded.
The US Navy has accused Iran of a series of limpet mine attacks on ships that damaged tankers in 2019, as well as a deadly drone attack on an Israel-linked tanker that killed two operatives European crew earlier this year. Just a few months ago, Iranian hijackers stormed and briefly captured a Panama-flagged asphalt tanker off the coast of the United Arab Emirates.
Tehran denies carrying out the attacks, but a larger phantom war between Iran and the West has unfolded in the volatile waters of the region since President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the Iran nuclear deal in 2018 and imposed crushing sanctions on the country.