The United States military said Wednesday it had blocked two attempts by the Iranian navy to seize control of commercial tankers in international waters off the coast of Oman, including one case where Iranians fired on the tanker.
Iran has stepped up actions against tankers in the region since the U.S. tightened sanctions on Iran’s own exports of oil along with other sections of its economy.
The Iranians sought to seize the TRF Moss, a Marshall Islands-flagged ship followed hours later by the Bahamian-flagged Richmond Voyager. In both cases, the Iranian vessels fled after a U.S. destroyer appeared on the scene, according to a statement by the U.S. Central Command.
The statement said Wednesday, an Iranian naval vessel approached the TRF Moss in the Gulf of Oman.
“The Iranian vessel departed the scene when U.S. Navy guided-missile destroyer USS McFaul arrived on station,” said the statement.
About three hours later, the U.S. Navy received a distress call from the Richmond Voyager, positioned over 20 miles off the coast of Muscat, according to U.S. Central Command.
An additional Iranian naval vessel was close to the tanker and messaged it to stop.
Before the USS McFaul arrived, “Iranian personnel fired multiple, long bursts from both small arms and crew-served weapons,” said Central Command.
Several rounds hit the tanker’s hull, but it said there was no significant damage or casualties.
Central Command said since 2021, Iran has “harassed, attacked or seized” almost 20 internationally flagged merchant ships, “presenting a clear threat to regional maritime security and the global economy.”
Tightened sanctions aimed at cutting into Iran’s earnings from exports
The tightened sanctions by the U.S., aimed at cutting into Iran’s earnings from exports, have led to the United States seizing Iranian-controlled tankers and shipments of crude to other countries.
However, seizures come as the U.S. has sought to engage Tehran on some of the issues dividing them, the most substantial of which is restoring the 2015 agreement in which Iran accepted limitations on its nuclear program.
Most recently, Oman initiated indirect talks between the two sides, believed to primarily focus on releasing Americans being held by Iran.
Iran took control of two tankers within a week in regional waters in April. In one incident, Iranian navy commandos borne by helicopters were lowered onto the deck of the Marshall Islands-flagged oil tanker, the Advantage Sweet, in the Gulf of Oman.
Iran’s Revolutionary Guards seized the British-flagged oil tanker Stena Impero in the Strait of Hormuz in 2019 for allegedly ramming a fishing boat and released it two months later.
In 2021, Iran released a South Korean oil tanker that had been held for months amid a dispute over billions of dollars seized by Seoul.
In May 2022, Iran seized two Greek tankers after a Russian-flagged tanker carrying Iranian crude was seized near Athens a month earlier. The two vessels were released in November.