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Iran Seizes 2 Greek Tankers            05/28 09:07

   

   DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) -- Iran's paramilitary Revolutionary Guard 
seized two Greek oil tankers Friday in helicopter-launched raids in the Persian 
Gulf, officials said. The action appeared to be retaliation for Athens' 
assistance in the U.S. seizure of crude oil from an Iranian-flagged tanker this 
week in the Mediterranean Sea over violating Washington's crushing sanctions on 
the Islamic Republic.

   The raid marks the first major incident at sea in months as tensions remain 
high between Iran and the West over its tattered nuclear deal with world 
powers. As Tehran enriches more uranium, closer to weapons-grade levels than 
ever before, worries mount that negotiators won't find a way back to the accord 
-- raising the risk of a wider war.

   The Guard issued a statement announcing the seizures, accusing the tankers 
of unspecified violations. Nour News, a website close to Iran's Supreme 
National Security Council, warned a short time earlier that Tehran planned to 
take "punitive action" over Greece assisting the U.S. in seizing oil days 
earlier from the Iranian-flagged tanker Lana.

   Greece's Foreign Ministry said it made a strong demarche to the Iranian 
ambassador in Athens over the "violent taking over of two Greek-flagged ships" 
in the Persian Gulf. "These acts effectively amount to acts of piracy," a 
ministry statement said.

   The ministry called for the immediate release of the vessels and their 
crews, warning the seizure would have "particularly negative consequences" in 
bilateral relations and in Iran's relations with the European Union, of which 
Greece is a member.

   An Iranian helicopter landed on the Greek-flagged Delta Poseidon in 
international waters, some 22 nautical miles off the coast of Iran, the 
ministry said.

   "Armed men then took the crew captive," it said, adding that two Greek 
nationals were among the crew.

   "A similar incident has been reported on another Greek-flagged vessel, that 
was carrying seven Greek citizens, close to the coast of Iran," the ministry 
said.

   A Greek official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss details of 
the attack with a journalist, identified the second ship as the Prudent 
Warrior. Its manager, Polembros Shipping in Greece, earlier said the company 
was "cooperating with the authorities and making every possible effort to 
address the situation effectively."

   Greek officials did not identify the nationalities of the other crew on 
board the vessels.

   Both vessels had come from Iraq's Basra oil terminal, loaded with crude, 
according to tracking data from MarineTraffic.com. Prudent Warrior just before 
had been off Qatar and likely loaded oil there as well, the data showed.

   A U.S. defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss 
intelligence matters, said it appeared the two ships had come close to -- but 
not into -- Iranian territorial waters Friday. After the hijacking, they 
drifted into Iranian waters. The ships also had turned off their tracking 
devices -- another red flag, the official said. However, neither had issued a 
mayday or a call for help, the official said.

   Iran's seizure on Friday was the latest in a string of hijackings and 
explosions to roil a region that includes the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow 
mouth of the Persian Gulf through which a fifth of all traded oil passes. The 
incidents began after then-President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew the 
U.S. from Iran's nuclear deal with world powers, which saw Tehran drastically 
limit its enrichment of uranium in exchange for the lifting of economic 
sanctions.

   The U.S. Navy blamed Iran for a series of limpet mine attacks on vessels 
that damaged tankers in 2019, as well as for a fatal drone attack on an 
Israeli-linked oil tanker that killed two European crew members in 2021.

   Iranian hijackers also stormed and briefly captured a Panama-flagged asphalt 
tanker off the United Arab Emirates last year, and briefly seized and held a 
Vietnamese tanker in November.

   Tehran denies carrying out the attacks, but a wider shadow war between Iran 
and the West has played out in the region's volatile waters. Tanker seizures 
have been a part of it since 2019, when Iran seized the British-flagged Stena 
Impero after the United Kingdom detained an Iranian oil tanker off Gibraltar. 
Iran released the tanker months later as London also released the Iranian 
vessel.

   Iran last year also seized and held a South Korean-flagged tanker for months 
amid a dispute over billions of dollars of frozen assets Seoul holds.

   "This incident is assessed to be a retaliatory action in line with a history 
of Iranian forces detaining vessels in a tit-for-tat manner," maritime 
intelligence firm Dryad Global warned. "As a result, Greek-flagged vessels 
operating within the vicinity of Iran in the Persian Gulf and Gulf of Oman are 
currently assessed to be at a heightened risk of interception and it is advised 
to avoid this area until further notice."

   Underlining that threat, Iran's semiofficial Tasnim news agency warned in a 
tweet: "There are still 17 other Greek ships in the Persian Gulf that could be 
seized."

   Meanwhile, the Guard is building a massive new support ship near the Strait 
of Hormuz as it tries to expand its naval presence in waters vital to 
international energy supplies and beyond, according to satellite photos 
obtained by The Associated Press.

   Talks in Vienna over Iran's tattered nuclear deal have been stalled since 
April. Since the deal's collapse, Iran runs advanced centrifuges and has a 
rapidly growing stockpile of enriched uranium. Nonproliferation experts warn 
Iran has enriched enough up to 60% purity -- a short technical step from 
weapons-grade levels of 90% -- to make one nuclear weapon if it choose.

   Iran insists its program is for peaceful purposes, though United Nations 
experts and Western intelligence agencies say Iran had an organized military 
nuclear program through 2003.

   Building a nuclear bomb would still take Iran more time if it pursued a 
weapon, analysts say, though they warn Tehran's advances make the program more 
dangerous. Israel has threatened in the past it will carry out a preemptive 
strike to stop Iran -- and already is suspected in a series of recent killings 
targeting Iranian officials.

 
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