Iran's navy temporarily seized control of a Liberian-flagged oil tanker in what the United States said were global waters near the Strait of Hormuz on Wednesday.
The threat posed by its proxies has forced United States forces "to pull back", said Gen McKenzie, the head of Centcom. The newspaper claims they were originally a part of a larger flotilla allegedly sailing towards Venezuela and escorted by an Iranian Navy ship, but these four peeled off from the group at some point. Instead, officials threatened ship owners, insurers, and captains with targeted sanctions to make them hand over their cargo. Instead, the U.S. chose to go after private shipping companies that allegedly agreed to ship additional volumes of Iranian fuel to the Latin American nation.
No distress calls were made from the Wila before, during or after the seizure, the official said.
The four vessels, called Luna, Pandi, Bering and Bella, were seized on the high seas in recent days and are now en route to Houston, the WSJ reported, citing the officials, adding that senior administration officials are expected to meet the tankers at an event scheduled to mark the docking.
The Justice Department today announced the successful disruption of a multimillion dollar fuel shipment by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), a designated foreign terrorist organization, that was bound for Venezuela.
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Two of the ships just seized, the Bering and the Bella, were previously intimidated into canceling their shipments to Venezuela in the aftermath of the flotilla.
A CTF Sentinel coalition ship was providing overwatch in the immediate area and monitored the incident. Their impact along with an economic crisis has crippled Venezuela's ability to refine extremely heavy blend of oil extracted from its oilfields into gasoline, leading to countrywide shortages.
However, no other countries party to the deal found fault with Iran's behavior and some initially pledged to continue trading with Iran, but the threat of U.S. sanctions against them as well has slowly deprived Tehran of customers for petroleum, its single largest export. The Trump administration has sought to isolate Iran economically and prevent it from exporting oil overseas in a bid to coerce officials in Tehran back to the table to renegotiate the 2015 nuclear deal, which the United States pulled out of unilaterally in 2018.
A judge had subsequently issued a warrant for seizure.
U.S. Central Command on Thursday posted a video showing Iranian forces attempting to seize the petroleum.
The vessel later ended up back in Iranian waters, suggesting Iran itself seized the vessel.