After US intelligence raised fears that a foreign tanker had been forced into Iranian waters over the weekend, Iran has said that it assisted one vessel suffering a technical glitch.
The “foreign crude oil tanker in the Persian Gulf” was emitting a distress call, Iranian officials said, according to a report Tuesday on state-run Press TV.
“Iranian forces rushed to the scene after receiving the call, and tug boats assisted the disabled vessel and towed it towards Iranian territorial waters to undergo required repair,” Press TV reported, citing Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi, without identifying the ownership of the tanker.
The incident is one more in a series of maritime episodes involving Iran. Just last month, tensions between the US and Iran escalated into a military standoff after an American drone was shot down by Iran over the Strait of Hormuz. Last week, armed Iranian boats tried unsuccessfully to impede the passage of a British oil tanker in the Persian Gulf, according to two US officials with direct knowledge of the incident.
Since the weekend, US intelligence have been investigating what happened to the vessel, believed to be Panamanian flagged tanker M/T RIAH, CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr reported on Monday. The ship-tracking website Marine Vessel Traffic has not had a current location for the tanker since July 7.
According to intelligence gathered by US assets, the tanker was radioed by IRGC forces as it was traveling in the Strait of Hormuz in international waters and purportedly told to move into Iranian waters. The tanker was then towed to Iran’s Qeshm Island.
While US intelligence suggested that the tanker was UAE-owned, the United Arab Emirates said on Wednesday that the tanker in question was “neither owned nor operated by the UAE. It does not carry Emirati personnel, and did not emit a distress call,” according to state-run WAM.
In an interview the same day with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, CNN’s Fareed Zakaria asked about the status of a “Panamanian-flagged tanker that appears to have been escorted to a port in Iran by the Iranian navy.”
Zarif responded: “I haven’t had any briefing about that, but [what] I’ve heard in the news is that it required assistance and it’s being assisted.”