Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard Corps seized two Greek oil tankers in the Persian Gulf on Friday, just after Athens helped the US seize an Iranian oil tanker for alleged sanctions violations in the Mediterranean.
The Guard’s announcement comes as tensions between Iran and the West remain high over the stalled negotiations over its rapidly advancing nuclear program.
The Guard released a statement on its website accusing the unnamed tankers of unspecified violations.
The Greek foreign ministry said it was making a strong demarche to Iran’s ambassador to Athens over the “violent takeover of two Greek-flagged ships” in the Persian Gulf.
“These acts amount to piracy in effect,” the ministry said in a statement.
The ministry called for the immediate release of the ships and their crews, saying these acts would have “particularly negative consequences” in Iran’s bilateral relations and relations with the European Union, of which Greece is a member.
The ministry’s statement said an Iranian helicopter landed earlier Friday on the Greek-flagged Delta Poseidon in international waters, about 22 nautical miles off the coast of Iran.
“Gunmen then captured the crew,” it said, adding that two Greek nationals were among the crew.
“A similar incident has been reported on another Greek-flagged ship carrying seven Greek citizens, close to the coast of Iran,” the ministry said.
It did not identify the nationalities of the other crew members aboard the ships.
A US defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters, said it appeared the two ships had come close to – but not in – Iranian territorial waters on Friday before drifting into Iranian waters. The ships also had their tracking devices turned off, another red flag, the official said. However, neither had issued a distress call or a distress call, the official said.
Iran had earlier Friday threatened “punitive measures” because Athens was involved in the US seizure of an Iranian oil tanker in Greek waters.
Iran’s Nour News website, close to its security services, made the threat just as shipping news site Lloyd’s List said it believed two Greek tankers had been seized in the Persian Gulf. Lloyd’s quoted anonymous industry sources as saying that the two ships were boarded after Iranian military helicopters approached them Friday afternoon. It said both tankers had just been loaded with Iraqi crude.
The cargo of crude oil from an Iranian-flagged tanker that was stopped in Greek waters last month has been seized and is being transferred to another ship at the request of the United States, a Greek official said Thursday.
The official said that following “judicial intervention by US authorities regarding the vessel’s cargo”, the process is currently underway, at the expense of the US government, for the “transfer” of the oil from the port of Karystos on the Aegean Island of Evia.
The official, who asked not to be identified to discuss the matter, did not provide further details. A spokesman for the Justice Department in Washington and the US embassy in Athens declined to comment on Thursday.
Paphitis reported from Athens, Greece. Associated Press writer Amir Vahdat in Tehran, Iran, contributed to this report.