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Iran Seizes Third Foreign Ship in Less Than Month

FILE - An aerial view shows a speedboat of Iran's Revolutionary Guard moving around the British-flagged oil tanker Stena Impero, July 21, 2019, which was seized in the Strait of Hormuz by the Guard, in the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas.

Updated Aug. 4, 2:25 p.m.

Iran seized a foreign oil tanker and its seven crew members in the Persian Gulf last week, state media reported Sunday, the third time the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps has detained a ship in less than a month.

The Guards said in a statement that they seized the ship Wednesday night near Farsi Island, north of the Strait of Hormuz. The official news agency IRNA quoted the Guards as saying that the ship was carrying 700,000 liters of smuggled Iranian fuel that had been transferred to it from other ships and were being transported "to Persian Gulf Arab states."

The reports on the seizure did not say why Iranian fuel would be transferred to other energy-producing Persian Gulf Arab states. But Tehran has been concerned about the smuggling of its top commodity in the wake of United States economic sanctions aimed at cutting its world oil trade.

Iranian media reported last month that about 8 million liters of government-subsidized oil are smuggled daily to countries with higher oil prices.

The Iranian reports did not name the seized vessel or the nationality of the crew members who had been detained.

The U.S. Fifth Fleet, based in Bahrain, said it had no information on the seizure of the tanker, while Britain said all of its British-flagged ships were accounted for and that there was no suggestion that any British nationals were among those detained.

The Revolutionary Guards said July 18 they had seized the Panama-flagged MT Raih for alleged fuel smuggling, and a day later impounded the British-flagged Stena Impero in the Strait of Hormuz, apparently in retaliation for the British seizure at Gibraltar of an Iranian tanker allegedly headed to Syria.

Ships carrying a fifth of the world's oil supply pass through the narrow Strait of Hormuz. Tensions in the region have escalated in the year since U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the 2015 international pact restraining Iran's nuclear development program and reimposed sanctions.

In recent weeks, both Iran and the U.S. have shot down each other's unmanned drones surveilling the Persian Gulf, while Washington has blamed Tehran for other attacks in the Mideast. Iran has unsuccessfully sought help from Britain, France and Germany to help alleviate the effects of the U.S. sanctions, which have hobbled its economy.