USA military accuses Iranian forces of boarding Liberian-flagged civilian ship

Cheryl Sanders
August 14, 2020

Private maritime intelligence firm Dryad Global said it suspected two other ships had been harassed by Iran's paramilitary Revolutionary Guard in the Persian Gulf over the last week as well, based on the ships' behaviour. While the report remains uncorroborated and relies exclusively on nameless American officials, the move would come as a steep escalation in Washington's "maximum pressure campaign" on the Islamic Republic, which in recent months has targeted gas shipments to Venezuela.

No distress calls were made from the Wila before, during or after the seizure, the official said.

The Iranian oil tanker was "monitored by an American organization" and they had asked Pakistani authorities to "seize it", the agency quoted a Pakistani senator, Rehman Malik, as saying.

Despite previous threats from Washington to halt the flow of fuel into Venezuela, Iran has remained adamant about the shipments, repeatedly stating they would continue in defiance of USA sanctions, which apply to both Caracas and Tehran.

"Today in worldwide waters, Iranian forces, including two ships and an Iranian "Sea King" helicopter, overtook and boarded a ship called the 'Wila, '" the US Central Command said in a tweet.

The incident comes less than a week after an Iranian oil tanker was seized by Pakistani authorities in the port of Karachi "at the request of the U.S.", according to the semi-official Fars News Agency. Washington has imposed sanctions on both countries to choke oil exports and deprive their governments of their main source of revenue. Venezuela's embattled economy has also suffered under sanctions, driving the two so-called United States adversaries into closer cooperation as they seek to lessen the impact of the American penalties.

Iranian state television later on Thursday acknowledged the brief seizure, referring to the operation as a routine inspection without elaborating.

"A bill has been provided by the lawmakers which requires the government to receive expenses for providing security to vessels, either military or non-military, in the Strait of Hormuz from them", senior legislator Hossein Ali Haji Deligani said at the time. Neither Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA nor Venezuela's oil or information ministries responded to requests for comment.

It's unclear if those four ships were the same vessels that were seized this week. It wasn't immediately clear what cargo it carried.

Tensions between Iran and the U.S. have heightened as a series of incidents in the Persian Gulf region has put the two sides on a collision course. Suspected limpet mine attacks the USA blamed on Iran targeted several tankers.

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