The United Nations has said that a “hijacked” oil tanker has returned to Iranian waters after an apparent attempt to smuggle crude oil for the Islamic republic.
The International Labor Organisation said that the MT Gulf Sky was hijacked off the coast of the UAE July 5, citing its captain.
“The vessel was taken to Iran,” the ILO told the Associated Press.
The ILO cited the International Seafarers’ Welfare and Assistance Network for its information. The ILO earlier filed a report saying the vessel and its sailors had been abandoned by its owners without pay since March off Khorfakkan, a city on the eastern coast of the UAE.
Upon arrival in Iran, authorities took 26 members of the crew, all from India, and flew them back to their home country on July 15. Two more members of the crew did not fly because they did not have passports. Their circumstances remain unknown but it is believed that they remain in Tehran.
The admission is significant as it means that the ship could have been seized by the Iranian authorities to stop the United States getting access to it amid allegations of oil smuggling.
Iranian state media and officials have not acknowledged the hijacking and arrival of the MT Gulf Sky to Iran. The US government similarly has not commented.
In May, the US Justice Department filed criminal charges against two Iranians, accusing them of trying to launder some $12 million to purchase the tanker, then named the MT Nautica, through a series of front companies.
Court documents allege the smuggling scheme involved the Quds Force of Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard Corps, which is its elite expeditionary unit, as well as Iran’s national oil and tanker companies. The two men charged, one of whom also has an Iraqi passport, remain at large.
A US bank froze funds associated with the sale, causing the seller to launch a lawsuit in the UAE to repossess the vessel, the Justice Department earlier said.
As tensions between Iran and the US heated up last year, tankers plying the waters of the Mideast became targets, particularly near the crucial Strait of Hormuz, the Arabian Gulf’s narrow mouth through which 20 per cent of all oil passes. Suspected limpet mine attacks the US blamed on Iran targeted several tankers. Iran denied being involved, though it did seize several tankers.
Source: The National