An oil tanker sought by the U.S. over allegedly circumventing sanctions on Iran was hijacked on July 5 off the coast of the United Arab Emirates, a seafarers organisation said Wednesday.
Satellite photos showed the vessel in Iranian waters on Tuesday and two of its sailors remained in the Iranian capital.
It wasn’t immediately clear what happened aboard the Dominica-flagged MT Gulf Sky, though its reported hijacking comes after months of tensions between Iran and the U.S.
David Hammond, the CEO of the United Kingdom-based group Human Rights at Sea, said he took a witness statement from the captain of the MT Gulf Sky, confirming the ship had been hijacked.
“We are delighted to hear that the crew are safe and well, which has been our fundamental concern from the outset,” Mr. Hammond said.
TankerTrackers.com, a website tracking the oil trade at sea, said it saw the vessel in satellite photos on Tuesday in Iranian waters off Hormuz Island. Hormuz Island, near the port city of Bandar Abbas, is some 190 km north of Khorfakkan, a city on the eastern coast of the UAE.
The Emirati government, the U.S. Embassy in Abu Dhabi and the U.S. Navy’s Bahrain-based 5th Fleet did not respond to requests for comment. Iranian state media did not immediately report on the vessel and Iran’s mission to the UN did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
In May, the U.S. Justice Department filed criminal charges against two Iranians, accusing them of trying to launder some $12 million to purchase the tanker, then named the MT Nautica, through a series of front companies. The vessel then took on Iranian oil from Kharg Island to sell abroad, the U.S. government said.
Court documents allege the scheme involved the Quds Force of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard and Iran’s national oil and tanker companies. The two men charged, one of whom also has an Iraqi passport, remain at large. “Because a U.S. bank froze the funds related to the sale of the vessel, the seller never received payment,” the Justice Department said. “As a result, the seller instituted a civil action in the UAE to recover the vessel.”