Armed Iranian forces dropping from a helicopter onto a Liberian-flagged oil tanker in international waters Wednesday constituted “a blatant violation of international law,” the U.S. military and international partners in the Persian Gulf region said Thursday.
U.S. Central Command released video of two Iranian ships and a “Sea King” helicopter pouncing on the MT Wila, which was anchored near the United Arab Emirates port of Khor Fakkan in the Gulf of Oman near the Strait of Hormuz. The Wila’s is registered to Liberian firm Bandit Shipping Co., managed by Greek firm IMS SA.
CENTCOM said Coalition Task Force (CTF) Sentinel, the operational arm of the International Maritime Security Construct (IMSC), “monitored” the incident, but international forces did not act beyond monitoring as the Iranians held the tanker for five hours.
CENTCOM said the Wila did not issue any calls for help after armed Iranian personnel fast-roped aboard the ship. After being released, the ship anchored at Fujairah in the UAE.
“Iran’s use of its military forces to conduct an armed boarding of a commercial vessel in international waters constitutes a blatant violation of international law that undermines freedom of navigation and the free flow of commerce,” CENTCOM said. “We call on Iran to articulate to the international community the legal basis for its actions. This type of reckless, aggressive behavior by Iran destabilizes the region and threatens the rules based international order.”
The IMSC consists of Albania, Australia, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Lithuania, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, and the United States, with a pledge to protect the flow of commerce in the waters of the Middle East. Twenty percent of the world’s oil trade passes through the Strait of Hormuz.
“CTF Sentinel is working to secure the regional maritime commons and recommends Best Management Practices 5 (BMP5) as a guide for enhanced maritime security,” CENTCOM added.
The U.S. reportedly seized in recent days four Iranian ships believed to be transporting fuel in violation of U.S. sanctions, with the Bering, Bella, Luna and Pandi rerouted to Houston to meet up with U.S. officials, the Wall Street Journal reported.
Iran’s Ambassador to Venezuela Hojat Soltani tweeted in response to the report, “Yet another lie and psychological warfare by the US propaganda machine. The tankers are neither Iranians, nor their owners or flags have anything to do with Iran. The terrorist Trump just wants to cover up the humiliation of his failure against the great nation of Iran by scattering false propaganda.”