In yet more confirmation that the White House’s “maximum pressure” campaign has given way to Iran’s own more intense and aggressive summer of ‘counter-pressure’ in the gulf, Iran’s military Saturday has seized a small foreign vessel and its crew, the semi-official ISNA news agency confirms.
The vessel is being described in international reports as a tugboat Iran has accused of smuggling nearly 284,000 liters of diesel. Iranian forces have arrested and detained its 12 Filipino crew members, but it’s as yet unknown what flag the boat was flying.
The petrol confiscated is said to be worth 233.71 billion rials ($20.2 million), according to the ISNA report.
Iran has now detained three commercial vessels in the vital Strait of Hormuz over the past three months, among them the still captured British-flagged oil tanker Stena Impero.
According to Fox the US Navy’s 5th Fleet said it was aware of the incident but didn’t comment further, while the Philippines’ Department of Foreign Affairs said it’s also investigating the report.
Iran has been waging an ongoing crackdown on rampant fuel smuggling in the gulf amid its energy woes due to crippling US-led sanctions. Large scale smuggling to outside countries has arisen due to state subsidies making Iranian fuel among the world’s cheapest.
“Gasoline sales hit a record high of $72 million last week on the Iran Energy Exchange (IRENEX) for exports to neighboring countries,” Reuters reported.
State media has recently estimated that 10 million liters of fuel are smuggled out of Iran on a daily basis.