Iran seizes 3rd tanker as international escort fleet proposal stalls

Iran seizes 3rd tanker as international escort fleet proposal stalls

Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Australia on Sunday meeting with counterparts (DoD photo)

WASHINGTON — Iran seized a third oil tanker in the Persian Gulf, continuing to seek ways to pressure European nations as the Pentagon struggles to implement a plan for an international escort fleet.

Pentagon officials had no immediate comment on the seizure, which Iran announced on Sunday.

According to news accounts, Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps detained a ship near the Strait of Hormuz waterway, saying it was smuggling fuel in the Persian Gulf. The vessel was seized Wednesday near Farsi Island, which the Revolutionary Guard uses as a naval base, Iran state media reported Sunday.

Farsi Island is north of the Strait of Hormuz. The state news agency IRNA said it was an Iraqi ship that was detained.

Iran hopes that Britain, France, Germany, the European Union, China and Russia — the entities remaining in the 2015 nuclear deal — can be pressured to come up with ways for Tehran to get an economic reboot from the grip of U.S. sanctions.

Washington withdrew from the treaty and imposed tough economic sanctions on Iran, which have degraded that nation’s economy.

In July Iran seized a Panamanian-flagged ship as well as the British tanker Stena Impero near the Strait of Hormuz for alleged marine violations. Those detainments occurred two weeks after British forces intercepted an Iranian oil tanker near Gibraltar for allegedly violating sanctions on Syria.

Last week, the Royal Navy destroyer HMS Duncan arrived in the Persian Gulf, temporarily doubling the number of British warships in the region to escort British ships and dissuade Iranian adventurism.

The Pentagon wants to have international ships in the Gulf, but has been rebuffed in its requests for help from Germany and Japan. Britain also is discussing creating an international fleet.

“We welcome the decision of the United Kingdom to participate in the international maritime security construct to enhance maritime domain awareness, promote safe passage, and enhance freedom of navigation in the Arabian Gulf, Strait of Hormuz, Arabian Sea, and Bab al-Mandeb,” Cmdr. Rebecca Rebarich, a Pentagon spokesperson, told reporters Monday.

This is an international challenge and we look forward to the opportunity to work together with the Royal Navy and with additional partners and allies who share the common goal of ensuring the free flow of commerce,” she said.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Sunday that about 30 countries attended a recent meeting at U.S. Central Command headquarters to discuss contributing to the protection of ships going through the Strait of Hormuz.

“And we have various degrees of commitment, so I think we’ll have some announcements coming out soon in the coming days, where you’ll see countries begin to sign up. And so that’s good news. Our ambition has always been to internationalize it,” Esper told reporters Sunday.

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