Early today Iran seized two major oil tankers in the Persian Gulf in response to the Greek government seizing one of theirs due to international sanctions. The two ships, the Delta Poseidon and the Prudent Warrior were boarded by helicopter mounted troops off the coast of Iran. This comes as retaliation for the Greek role in handing over an Iranian ship that was docked in Greece to the American government. The American government had decided to ask Greece to hand over the ship in an operation to injure the finances of a Russo-Iranian money laundering organization supposedly funding the Russian government and their war in Ukraine. Further than this the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps of Iran (IRGC) who carried out the operation is a designated terrorist organization by the US and may have ties to this Russian organization.
Iranian Ship or Someone Else?
In what appears to be an Iranian-Greek conflict goes deeper than these two nations. The sanctions are actually not intended to be against Iran but instead a Russian oligarch. This conflict originates with the Greek seizure of the Lana, formerly known as the Pegasus, owned by Transmorflot. Lana was originally the name of the vessel when it was sailed under the Russian flag and directly operated by a Russian company. In the last months the ship was transferred to fly under the Iranian flag presumably to try and get around the Russian sanctions. According to the USA, one of the major Russian banks, the Promsvyazbank, has been essential in funding the war in the Ukraine and therefore became a target of NATO backed sanctions against Russia. Since the ship was technically helping to finance the war, it was fair game for NATO to attempt to seize. While so far this is only speculation, the Iranian tanker was supposedly carrying 100,000 tons of crude oil, a violation of the sanctions also imposed upon Iran by The United States and the European Union as well.
The official statement comes from the United States Department of Justice who claims that the oil tanker is tied to an international money laundering scheme meant to fund both the IRGC and major players in Russia. They also claim that this organization goes deeper, into the heart of the Russian government as well as to major Russian businessmen who seek to share the profits of the Iranian oil trade in violation of international sanctions. All of these ties have been claimed as an international criminal organization and the key members officially sanctioned by the United States and their assets seized. This is where the original connection to the Lana begins, as the aforementioned individuals and organizations are the primary sources of wealth that the oil tanker provides for. This means that in terms of international law according to pro-USA organizations; they are fair game. The full Justice Department report can be found here.
In the last two months the Iranian tanker Lanahad been docked following an emergency stop in Greece after the United States officially asked the Greek government to seize the tanker and hand it over. The Greek government eventually complied with this request and the ship was handed over and its cargo seized by the Untied States. According to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corp of Iran, they believe that this was a violation of International Maritime Laws, a statement made through their news agency Fars who reported on the event. Further than this they deny any allegations of these ships being Russian or part of any international illegal scheme and that it is a plot by the United States to defraud the Iranian people and steal property.
The Iranian government has always held to a policy of tit-for-tat seizures in regard to the Persian Gulf in that whenever their ships are touched, they effectively will do the same in retaliation. This seems to be what happened with the two Greek vessels as Iran felt the need to give a show of force against these sanctions. Most of the information that has come out so far has been about the Delta Poseidon while the information about the Prudent Warrior has been grainy and unclear at best. From what we know about the seizure the Iranian government is claiming that the ships were in violation of Iranian waters, although the actual positioning seems to have been in international waters, making it a violation of international maritime law to touch the two ships.
The Delta Poseidon from what we know originated its trip in al-Basra, Iraq with a destination in mainland Greece before being detained in the Persian Gulf. Where the ship exactly was, its course, and its destination can all be found on the MarineTraffic website that covers the positioning of ships around the world, Delta Poseidon seen here. According to the IRGC the ship was seized in violation of maritime law and therefore was boarded by IRGC forces to capture the ship and detain the crew. From the Greek perspective this was a hostile takeover that used military force to take the ship, although what this means is unclear. We do know that it was a military operation carried out by the IRGC landing helicopters on the ships and unloading armed personal to take over the vessels. Whether or not the Iranian government intends to release the prisoners is unclear and their current fate is unknown.
The Greek government sees this as illegal act of piracy and a violent takeover of an otherwise peaceful trading operation with Iraq. Ministry of Greek Foreign Affairs Secretary General Themistoklis Demiris called for the immediate release of the ships and their crews with threats of destroying relations between Iran and the EU in response to these actions. Overall, they claim that nine Greek citizens have been officially arrested during the ship seizures and are being held in custody without any reasoning amounting to kidnapping. The end result and diplomatic negotiations are expected to hopefully come to fruition in the next few days. It is especially worrying that the Iranian government may use the captured ship crews as bargaining chips to get back their tanker and the oil. The problem with this is that the IRGC is designated as a terrorist organization by the United States and therefore can not be negotiated with in any meaningful way. It is likely then that the Swiss intermediates between Iran and the United States will try to mediate an end to the conflict before it further escalates.