Iranian forces have seized an oil tanker in the Gulf of Oman, two U.S. military officials confirmed to Fox News on Thursday.
The seized vessel, previously known as the Suez Rajan and now known as the Marshall Islands flagged oil tanker Saint Nicholas, was once at the center of another dispute between the U.S. and Iran that ultimately saw the U.S. seize over 1 million barrels of Iranian crude oil. Armed Iranian soldiers reportedly boarded the vessel Thursday morning.
“We condemn this apparent seizure. The Iranian government should immediately release the ship and its crew,” National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said Thursday during the White House press briefing. “These provocative and unacceptable actions need to stop. We’ll continue to work with our allies and partners to deter and confront the full range of Iran’s concerning and destabilizing behavior in close coordination, of course, with the international community.”
The ship was in transit to Turkey when the Iranian naval forces boarded and seized the vessel, Pentagon press secretary Maj. Gen. Pat Ryder told reporters.
“They subsequently forced the tanker to change course toward Iranian territorial waters and the status of the crew is unknown at this time,” he said.
“This activity is contrary to international law,” he added. “It’s another example of Iranian malign activity threatening security and stability in the region. And we call on Iran to release the tanker and the crew immediately.”
The U.S. and other Western navies have been combating attacks from Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen in the Red Sea for weeks, but Iran itself had not taken direct action beyond sending one of its naval vessels to the region. The Houthis had been a State Department designated foreign terrorist organization until February 2021, when the designation was revoked by the Biden administration.
The U.S. Navy has shot down numerous missiles and drones fired by Houthi rebels. U.S. Navy helicopters also fired on and sank multiple Houthi small boats as they attempted to hijack a trade vessel last month.
Iran deployed the Alborz, an Alvand class destroyer, to the Red Sea on January 1. The vessel had been a part of the Iranian navy’s 34th fleet, and patrolled the Gulf of Aden, the north of the Indian Ocean and the Bab Al-Mandab Strait as far back as 2015, according to Iran’s Press TV.
Iran’s seizure comes just one day after the Houthis launched their largest attack to date on international shipping lanes in the southern Red Sea.
On Jan. 9, at approximately 9:15 p.m. local time, the Iranian-backed Houthis launched one-way attack UAVs (OWA UAVs), anti-ship cruise missiles, and an anti-ship ballistic missile from Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen towards international shipping lanes in the Southern Red Sea. It took place as dozens of merchant vessels were transiting.
In a statement posted to X, U.S. Central Command said the United States military presence in the Red Sea was able to prevent any injuries or damage.
Nevertheless, multiple international shipping companies have diverted their vessels away from the Red Sea amid the ongoing attacks, leading to delays. Vessels must travel south around Africa if they do not sail through the Red Sea.
Fox News’ Greg Norman, Louis Casiano and The Associated Press contributed to this report.