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UAE oil tanker disappears in Persian Gulf near Iran

Oil tanker Riah missing in the Strait of Hormuz

UAE oil tanker disappears in Persian Gulf near Iran

Emirates-based oil tanker has vanished from the radar, while sailing through the Strait of Hormuz near Iran.

The Panamanian-flagged oil tanker ‘Riah’ usually transits oil from Dubai and Sharjah to Fujairah, a trip of just under 200 nautical miles that takes a tanker like this just over a day at sea.

However, while passing through the Strait of Hormuz on Saturday night, the vessel’s tracking signal abruptly turned off just before midnight, after it deviated from its course and pointed towards the Iranian coast. According to marine tracking data, the signal has not been turned on again since, and the ship has essentially vanished.

So what happened? With US-Iranian tensions bubbling, and Iran blamed for several attacks on oil tankers near the strait in recent months, attention turned to the Islamic Republic. Israeli media picked up the story on Tuesday, and framed it as another development in the ongoing saga, highlighting Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s vow on Tuesday to respond to Britain’s seizure of an Iranian tanker near Gibraltar earlier this month.

A spokesman for the shipping company that owns the ‘Riah’ – Sharjah-based Mouj-al-Bahar General Trading – told TradeWinds that the ship had been “hijacked” by Iranian authorities. CNN reported that the US intelligence community “increasingly believes” the tanker was forced into Iranian waters by the naval wing of Iran’s elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, but has not revealed its sources.

There are other reasons why a ship might simply vanish. Israeli website TankerTrackers.com compiles reports of ships it believes are switching off their trackers to dock in Iranian ports and load up on oil, in violation of American sanctions. The site reported a Chinese vessel – the ‘Sino Energy 1’ – disappearing late last month near Iran, before reappearing fully loaded and heading the opposite direction six days later. It is currently passing Singapore en route back to China.

However, an Emirates-based ship is extremely unlikely to be trading oil with Iran, given the Emirates’ political differences with Tehran and close alliance with Saudi Arabia, the world’s second-largest oil producer and largest exporter.

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