DUBAI – An oil tanker based in United Arab Emirates stopped in Iranian waters three days ago in the Strait of Hormuz and switched off its transponder , according to shipping tracking data, amid heightened tensions over the back of incidents involving commercial vessels in the Persian Gulf.
The Panama-flagged Riah stopped transmitting its position late Saturday and was last seen off the coast of Iran's Qeshm Island in the Strait of Hormuz.
An Emirati official denied that the tanker had links to the United Arab Emirates, saying the ship was on the way to Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates. "No UAE owned nor operated" and "does not carry Emirates personnel."
It did not issue a distress call, "said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the issue publicly .
The Riah, a small oil-products tanker, is listed on the vessel's tracking websites as registered with Prime Tankers in Dubai.
The U.S. 5th Fleet, based in Bahrain, was "aware of the reports" but had no further details, said a spokeswoman, Lt. Christina Gibson
Since May, at least six vessels have been attacked near the strait, the world's most important oil choke point, in incidents that the United States has blamed on Iran. Britain said last week that Iranian naval forces attempted to block a British oil tanker crossing the strait but were repelled by a navy fregate escorting the ship.
Iran has denied involvement in the incidents but has also threatened to retaliate against British shipping interests after an Iranian oil tanker was seized off the coast of Gibraltar earlier this month.
The ship, the Grace 1, was carrying 2.1 million barrels of light crude oil and was suspected of seeking to travel to the Syrian port of Baniyas in violation of European Union sanctions, authorities in Gibraltar said. Gibraltar is a British territory.
"The vicious British government committed piracy and attacked our ship," Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said in a speech Tuesday. "Iran will not leave such acts without a response," he warned.
British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said Saturday that Britain would help facilitate Grace 1's release if Iran could provide the ship's cargo would not go to Syria. Iran has said that it is not subject to E.U. sanctions.
The confrontation comes as Europe struggles to keep Iran in a nuclear deal it struck with world powers in 2015, following a U.S. withdrawal from the pact last year.
The agreement has curbed Iran's nuclear activities in exchange for major sanctions, including from the United States. The Trump administration violated the accord and reimposed sanctions on Iran in the fall, prompting Tehran to scale back its own commitments under the deal, Iranian officials said.
European nations have urged Iran to reverse recent moves to breach the agreement, including boosting uranium-enrichment levels beyond the limit set by the deal. Iran says it will continue to reduce its obligations to the nuclear pact in 60-day intervals until Europe compensates Tehran for economic losses suffered as a result of the US sanctions.
Also Tuesday, Iran's judiciary has confirmed the arrest of French Iranian scholar Fariba Adelkhah, the latest dual national to be detained by Iranian security forces. French President Emmanuel Macron called on Tehran on Monday to explain why Adelkhah, 60, was arrested.
"What has happened to me is a great deal," Macron told reporters during a visit to Belgrade, Agence France-Presse reported.