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Washington asks Iran to immediately release seized oil tanker

WASHINGTON: The United States has asked Iran to immediately release a vessel it seized in the Gulf.

A US commander meanwhile said Washington would work “aggressively” to ensure free passage of vessels through the vital waterway.

Reacting to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard’s announcement that it captured a foreign tanker smuggling fuel, the US State Department asked Iran to free the ship and its crew and stop harassing vessels in and around the Strait of Hormuz.

The US blames Iran for a series of attacks on shipping tankers since mid-May in the world’s most important oil artery, accusations Tehran rejects. The incidents have raised fears the long-time foes could stumble into war.

“The United States strongly condemns the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy’s continued harassment of vessels and interference with safe passage in and around the Strait of Hormuz,” a State Department spokesperson said in an email to Reuters news agency.

“Iran must cease this illicit activity and release the reportedly seized crew and vessel immediately.”

Iran’s Revolutionary Guard seized the foreign tanker accused of smuggling oil with a crew of 12 on Sunday, Iranian state TV reported earlier.

The seized ship was allegedly smuggling one million litres of fuel from Iranian smugglers to foreign customers, it said.

Iranian television broadcast footage appearing to show patrol boats used by the Guard circling a tanker marked “Riah” and “Panama”.

Oil shipping monitor TankerTrackers reported the Panamanian-flagged tanker Riah, used in the Strait of Hormuz “for fuelling other vessels”, crossed into Iranian waters on Sunday. It said the tanker’s automatic identification system had then stopped sending signals.

The announcement came a day after Iran’s foreign ministry said its forces assisted a foreign ship “with technical failure” after it sent out a distress call. The Guards did not confirm whether the vessel was the same one.

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