DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guards seized two Greek oil tankers in helicopter-launched raids in the Persian Gulf on Friday, officials said. The action appears to be in retaliation for Athens’ aid in the US seizure of crude oil from an Iranian-flagged tanker this week in the Mediterranean Sea for violating Washington’s crippling sanctions against the Islamic Republic.
The raid marks the first major incident at sea in months as tensions remain high between Iran and the West over its tattered nuclear deal with world powers. As Tehran enriches more uranium, closer than ever to weapons-grade levels, concerns are growing that negotiators won’t find a way back to the deal, raising the risk of more war. wide.
The Guard issued a statement announcing the seizures, accusing the tankers of unspecified violations.
Greece’s foreign ministry said it had made a strong representation to Iran’s ambassador in Athens over the “violent takeover of two Greek-flagged vessels” in the Persian Gulf. “These acts effectively amount to acts of piracy,” said a statement from the ministry.
The ministry called for the immediate release of the ships and their crews, and said the acts would have “particularly negative consequences” in bilateral relations and in Iran’s relations with the European Union, of which Greece is a member. member.
The ministry statement said that earlier on Friday, an Iranian helicopter landed on the Greek-flagged Delta Poseidon in international waters, some 22 nautical miles off the coast of Iran.
“Armed men then captured the crew,” he added, adding that two Greek nationals were among the crew.
“A similar incident was reported on another Greek-flagged vessel, which was carrying seven Greek citizens, near the Iranian coast,” the ministry said.
A Greek official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss details of the attack with a reporter, identified the second ship as the Prudent Warrior. Its director, Polembros Shipping in Greece, said earlier that the company was “cooperating with the authorities and doing everything possible to effectively remedy the situation”.
Greek officials did not identify the nationalities of other crew members aboard the ships.
Both ships came from Iraq’s Basra oil terminal, likely laden with crude, according to tracking data from MarineTraffic.com.
A US defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters, said it appeared the two ships approached – but not in – Iranian territorial waters on Friday. After the diversion, they drifted into Iranian waters. The ships had also turned off their tracking devices, another red flag, the official said. However, neither had issued a mayday or a call for help, the official said.
Iran had threatened Friday to take “punitive measures” against the involvement of Athens in the seizure by the United States of an Iranian tanker in Greek waters.
No News, a website close to Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, made the threat just as shipping news site Lloyd’s List said it believed two Greek tankers had been seized in the Persian Gulf. Citing unnamed industry sources, Lloyd’s reported that the two vessels were boarded after Iranian military helicopters approached them on Friday afternoon.
The seizures came after Greece helped the United States seize crude oil aboard an Iranian-flagged tanker this week.
A Greek official said on Thursday that the move followed “a judicial intervention by US authorities regarding the ship’s cargo”. The oil was to be “handed over” off the port of Karystos on the island of Evia in the Aegean Sea.
The official, who asked not to be identified in order to discuss the matter, did not provide further details. A spokesperson for the Justice Department in Washington and the US Embassy in Athens declined to comment on Thursday.
Iran’s seizure on Friday was the latest in a series of hijackings and explosions to rock a region that includes the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow mouth of the Persian Gulf through which a fifth of all oil traded passes.
The US Navy has blamed Iran for a series of limpet mine attacks on ships that damaged tankers in 2019, as well as a deadly drone attack on an Israel-linked tanker that killed two operatives European crews in 2021.
Iranian hijackers also stormed and briefly captured a Panamanian-flagged tanker off the United Arab Emirates last year, as well as briefly seized and detained a Vietnamese tanker in November.
Tehran denies carrying out the attacks, but a wider shadow war between Iran and the West has been unfolding in the region’s turbulent waters. Meanwhile, the Guard is building a massive new support vessel near the strategic Strait of Hormuz as it tries to expand its naval presence in waters vital to international energy supplies and beyond, satellite photos show. obtained by the Associated Press.
Paphite reported from Athens, Greece. Associated Press writer Amir Vahdat in Tehran, Iran, contributed to this report.