The United States has said it successfully seized cargo containing almost one million barrels of Iranian oil earlier this year, a move that sparked tensions in the Persian Gulf.
The seizure was first reported in April by Reuters, but now the US Department of Justice officially confirmed it on Friday.
On April 19th, about the time of the seizure, the vessel’s owner, Suez Rajan Ltd., pleaded guilty of sanctions violations and was fined $2.5 million.
The DOJ said the oil was “the subject of a civil forfeiture action” after the shipping company operating the oil-carrying vessel, Suez Rajan Limited, pleaded guilty to conspiring to violate sanctions imposed by the US.
“This is the first-ever criminal resolution involving a company that violated sanctions by facilitating the illicit sale and transport of Iranian oil and comes in concert with a successful seizure of over 980,000 barrels of contraband crude oil,” the Justice Department said in a statement. It went on to laud what it called the “successful disruption of a multimillion-dollar shipment of crude oil by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).” The group is designated as a “foreign terrorist organization” in the US.
In August, the Pentagon announced it was sending thousands of additional American troops to the region to assist and “support deterrence efforts” to protect shipping lanes, including the vitally important Strait of Hormuz. This prompted anger from Tehran, which has said seizing Iranian property in international waters amounts to piracy.
“Acts of trespassing on tankers carrying Iranian oil are a clear example of piracy,” Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Nasser Kanaani said last month. “Iran will not stand idly by in relation to any violation of the nation’s rights and will cut the hands of the aggressors.”