Terrorists from the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps boarded a Greek-owned tanker, “St. Nikolas”, flying the Marshall Islands flag in the Sea of Oman on Thursday. This action is connected to a US enforcement measure against Iranian sanctions-busting activities in February 2023.
Around 3:30 am local time, St. Nikolas reported that armed men had boarded the ship about 50 nautical miles east of Sohar, Oman. This is a distance well below the Bab el Maneb Strait, which has been the scene of so many clashes between the Houthis, commercial shipping, and other maritime traffic. The ship lost communication with the Houthis and changed its course to Iranian territorial waters. The ship has now been confirmed to be heading toward the Iranian port of Bandar-e-Jask.
St. Nikolas was carrying about 1,000,000 barrels of Iraqi crude oil, loaded in Basra. It was on its way to Aliaga (western Turkey). Empire Navigation is a Greek shipping company that owns the vessel.
This Iranian video documents the operation.
📹 Iran has seized a Marshall Islands-flagged (US) oil tanker in the Gulf of Oman.
— Mete Sohtaoğlu (@metesohtaoglu) January 11, 2024
The Iranian spokesman announced the seizure, saying, “After the theft by the United States of Iranian oil last year, St Nikolas was seized this morning by Iran’s Navy with a court order… It is on its way to Iranian ports.”
St. Nikolas’s history is very complex.
Empire Navigation received $1.2m in 2022 for the charter of the Suez Rajan – a tanker that is now called the St. Nikolas. It was engaged in an operation that aimed to circumvent US sanctions against Iranian oil while under charter. The US obtained an order of civil forfeiture for the oil at the US District Court of the District of Columbia. In April 2023, the US Navy took the ship to Houston, Texas where the US government sold the oil.
Empire Navigation reclaimed the ship and renamed it St. Nikolas. Everyone was happy except the Iranians.
Iran responded almost immediately to the seizure of Suez Rajan by seizing two tanks near the Strait of Hormuz. These are the Niovi and the Advantage Sweet, which they continue to hold today. Iran’s reasons for seizing the Niovi are murkier. The first tanker was carrying cargo belonging to major U.S. oil firm Chevron Corp. The Bahamas-flagged Richmond Voyager was also chartered by U.S.-based Chevron. A few months later, the U.S. Navy warship arrived in the Gulf of Oman and narrowly avoided the boarding of the vessel. Iran claimed that the Richmond Voyager had collided with an Iranian vessel and had a court-ordered seizure.
The Houthis do not fire missiles at passing vessels, unlike Iran.
This operation was conducted by the IRGC. It is therefore an official Iranian government operation. The use of “judicial orders” clearly shows the government’s involvement. The St. Nikolas flies the Marshall Islands flag. A “compact of Free Association” links them to the United States. The US is now responsible for the Marshall Islands’ defense. In terms of our rights and responsibilities, the Iranians pirated St. Nikolas in the same way they would have pirated a US-flagged ship.
Joe Biden’s foreign policy is back. His foreign policy and national-security team was determined, when he took office, to create a new Obama administration. Their goal was to kickstart the disastrous Iran nuclear deal. To achieve this, they allowed Iranian proxies to attack US troops and paid them $6 billion.
Biden’s actions have shown extraordinary weakness when it comes to Iran and its threats. He has also encouraged adventurism like the episode of Today, which could force an armed confrontation, or make the US look even weaker.