Tehran – Iran’s Revolutionary Guards said on Wednesday they had released a Vietnamese-flagged oil tanker they seized last month in the Sea of Oman in a tense incident also involving the US Navy.
Releasing the ship ends the latest maritime confrontation in waters near the strategic Strait of Hormuz, at a time when Tehran is preparing to resume talks with major powers aimed at ending a standoff over its nuclear deal.
Iran and its arch enemy the United States gave sharply differing accounts of what happened to the MV Sothys, reportedly carrying 26 crew, in the incident on October 24.
Iran’s Guards claimed they thwarted an attempt by a US naval vessel to seize the Sothys which was carrying Iranian oil.
US defence officials rejected that account and said they took no action as Iran seized the tanker and took it into its territorial waters.
On Wednesday, Sepah News, the official website of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), said, ‘The seized Sothys oil tanker was released by court order after it was emptied of oil belonging to the Islamic Republic of Iran in Bandar Abbas’.
The Tanker Trackers website said earlier that ‘Iran’s IRGC appears to have now released the Sothys. She is currently empty and underway in a southward direction.’ ‘Though her reported destination is Dubai, her current trajectory is the Gulf of Oman,’ the service said overnight, adding that Iran was holding the US$50mn worth of oil which the ship had received in June.
The IRGC’s Navy Commander Alireza Tangsiri mocked the US version of the incident as a ‘big lie’, in a meeting on Wednesday attended by the Guards’ commander-in-chief, Hossein Salami.
Tangsiri also praised the ‘determination, intelligence and courage of the children of Iran who defeated the Americans’.
The incident came in the wake of a series of attacks on commercial vessels in the sea lanes serving the Gulf, where a large portion of the world’s oil is produced and shipped.
Iran was blamed for a July 29 drone strike on the tanker MT Mercer Street operated by a London-based firm ultimately owned by Israeli shipping magnate Eyal Ofer. The strike killed a former British soldier and a Romanian. Iran denied it was responsible for that attack, or others in the area.
The argument over the Vietnamese tanker incident comes alongside efforts to restore the tattered 2015 nuclear deal under which Iran accepted strict limits to its nuclear activities in return for sanctions relief.
The United States under president Donald Trump unilaterally pulled out of the deal in 2018, leading Iran to step away from some of its commitments.
Iran agreed last week to resume discussions with major powers on November 29.