1013 GMT August 24, 2019
“Based on the international regulations, after receiving their request for help, Iranian forces went to the site and the foreign tanker was towed by an emergency towing vessel toward Iranian waters for repairing process,” Seyyed Abbas Mousavi said, according to IRNA.
The spokesman also noted that further details of the incident will be announced later.
The comments came after The Associated Press claimed a small oil tanker from the United Arab Emirates traveling through the Strait of Hormuz has entered Iranian waters and turned off its tracker a few days ago, leading the US to suspect Iran seized the vessel amid heightened tensions in the region.
The Panamanian-flagged Riah turned off its transponder late Saturday night but an Emirati official said it sent no distress call.
A US defense official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, claimed that Iranian forces may have seized the 58-meter ship.
"We certainly have suspicions that it was taken," the official said. "Could it have broken down or been towed for assistance? That's a possibility. But the longer there is a period of no contact ... it's going to be a concern."
Tensions in Persian Gulf
The questions over Riah's status come amid heightened tensions between Tehran and Washington over Tehran's nuclear program and the US military deployment in the Persian Gulf.
Also, a standoff between Iran and the United Kingdom over the seizure of a tanker carrying Iranian oil by the British Royal Marines has exacerbated the ongoing tensions in the Persian Gulf.
Gibraltar’s police seized an oil tanker earlier in July on the suspicion it was heading to Syria in violation of European Union sanctions. Tehran has denied the accusation.
Iran has called on the UK to release the vessel immediately, with Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei on Tuesday denounced the illegal seizure of the tanker, warning that the act of “piracy” will not go unanswered.
British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said on Saturday the UK would facilitate the release of the ship, carrying 2.1 million barrels of light crude oil, if Iran could guarantee the vessel would not breach EU sanctions on oil shipments to Syria.
UK’s warships in region
Following the UK’s seizure of the oil tanker, London sent two warships to the Persian Gulf. It has also announced that it will send a third warship later this year.
The British Ministry of Defense said on Tuesday that HMS Kent, a type 23 frigate, would deploy to the Persian Gulf "in September" as part of an operation to ensure Britain maintains a continuous maritime security presence in the strategic region.
It, however, stressed that the deployment was “long-planned” and not an escalation.