Monday, November 29, 2021

Satellite signals indicate Vietnamese vessel hijacked by Iran has been released

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) – Satellite tracking data and other signals on Wednesday showed that a Vietnamese oil tanker previously seized by Iran was liberated by the Islamic Republic, ending the latest naval confrontation involving Tehran amid stalled talks over its ragged nuclear deal with world powers.

The Sothys vessel left its position near the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas and reached international waters in the neighboring Gulf of Oman early Wednesday morning, data analyzed by the Associated Press from MarineTraffic.com showed. The ship was at anchor, but there was no information about its crew.

Iran did not confirm the release of the vessel, and its mission to the United Nations did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Vietnamese officials could not be reached for comment, although officials have previously admitted that they were trying to get more information about the takeover from Iran.

The US Navy’s 5th Fleet, based in the Middle East, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

On October 24, powerful paramilitaries of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard took control of the MV Sothys, a vessel that analysts suspect is trying to smuggle sanctioned Iranian crude into Asia. US forces watched the seizure but ultimately took no action when the ship entered Iranian waters.

Iran later celebrated the hijacking of the ship in dramatic footage that aired on state television the day before the 42nd anniversary of the seizure of the U.S. embassy in Tehran in 1979.

Soti 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 an October 11 letter to the Vietnam Maritime Administration, the group said analysis of satellite imagery indicated that Sothys received ship-to-ship oil transfers in June from the Oman Pride oil tanker.

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In August, the US Treasury determined that Oman Pride was being used to transport Iranian oil as part of a smuggling scheme to enrich the Quds Guard Expeditionary Force. The Treasury claims that Iranian oil is eventually sold to East Asia, without specifying a specific country.

Iran’s takeover of Sothys will be the latest in a string of hijackings and explosions in the Gulf of Oman, which lies close to the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow mouth of the Persian Gulf through which a fifth of all oil traded passes.

The U.S. Navy blamed Iran for a series of strikes on ships that damaged tankers in 2019, as well as a deadly drone attack on an Israel-linked oil tanker that killed two crew members from European countries earlier this year. Just a few months ago, Iranian hijackers stormed and briefly hijacked a Panama-flagged asphalt truck off the coast of the United Arab Emirates.

Tehran has denied carrying out attacks, but a broader shadow war between Iran and the West has played out in the region’s volatile waters since then-President Donald Trump withdrew the US from Iran’s nuclear deal in 2018 and imposed crushing sanctions on the country.

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Follow John Gumbrell on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jongambrellAP.

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