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UANI laments US failure to protect Greece-owned tanker

US lobby group says Iran’s ability to hijack St Nikolas, formerly Suez Rajan, may have a chilling effect on other companies caught with sanctioned cargoes

Iranian Navy’s action and Houthi attacks on Red Sea ships ‘the same form of piracy’, argues private watchdog

UNITED Against Nuclear Iran, the New York-based non-governmental advocacy group seeking to “combat the threats” posed by Iran, has strongly criticised the hijacking of the Greece-owned tanker St Nikolas on Thursday.

The tanker was boarded by masked men from the Iranian Navy in the Gulf of Oman and forced to change course for Iranian waters.

UANI said that it “strongly condemns” the Iranian action, which originated when the tanker was outside Iranian territorial waters.

It expressed concern for the crew who were seized along with the tanker, comprising 18 Filipinos and one Greek national, and who were “now being held hostage”.

The Islamic Republic of Iran’s navy “is engaging in the same form of piracy that the Houthis are practising in the Red Sea”, it said.

But the monitoring group also lashed out at the US navy for its seeming inability to prevent the St Nikolas incident and other attacks.

“Today’s hijacking represents a failure for the US maritime task forces, which are meant to guard against such piracy,” it said.

The seizing of the St Nikolas (IMO: 9524475) that under its previous name Suez Rajan had been carrying a cargo of Iranian oil seized last year by the US, was a particular worry, according to the group.

UANI had played a key role in the prosecution of the Suez Rajan case as it originally alerted the US authorities that the vessel had received Iranian crude.

The managing company Empire Navigation later paid a fine and entered into a three-year deferred prosecution agreement requiring close co-operation with the authorities.

“It is troubling that the United States cannot even protect a vessel that is under US Justice Department supervision,” said UANI.

“It signals that the US can no longer effectively ensure safe transit through two of the most key waterways in the world: the Strait of Hormuz and the Bab al-Mandeb Strait.

“It is the greatest failure in history by the greatest navy in history,” it said. “The US and its allies must empower our navy to ensure the safety of international shipping and free flow of commerce.”

The UANI statement was released just before news broke of US-led strikes against Houthi bases aimed at protecting shipping traffic in the Red Sea that has come under fire from Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen.

The statement also said that the St Nikolas hijacking sent “a chilling message to owners, operators, and crew members of other vessels which find themselves transporting illicit oil on behalf of rogue regimes which violate US sanctions”.

Despite facing threats of retaliation from Iran, Empire Navigation and the crew of St Nikolas had “admirably co-operated with the US government”, UANI said.

This was why “the US has a responsibility to do everything in its power to ensure the crew and the vessel are immediately released from Iranian captivity”. 

Empire said that it lost contact with the suezmax tanker at about 0630 hrs Athens time on Thursday.

The vessel was laden with a cargo of about 145,000 tonnes of crude oil loaded in Basrah in Iraq for Turkish charterer Tupras.

Empire was “in close and constant co-operation” with the authorities as well as with the families of its crew members, the shipping company said.


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