On November 3, Iran’s Press TV state news outlet released dramatic video footage of the seizure of an oil tanker in the Gulf of Oman.
The footage depicts events that actually happened earlier (on October 25, according to Press TV), when Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) commandos landed by helicopter on the deck of the Vietnamese-flagged oil tanker MV Sothys, which was being tailed by two U.S. Navy destroyers.
“Iran's Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) releases detailed footage of its confrontation late last month against an American act of piracy targeting an Iranian fuel shipment,” Press TV stated.
“During the episode, American forces confiscated the tanker that was carrying a cargo of Iranian oil in the strategic Sea of Oman, transferring its consignment of crude to another vessel. The IRGC then staged a maritime operation against the second vessel, landing its helicopters on its deck and navigating the ship towards Iranian waters.”
The Press TV report was accompanied by a dramatic, nearly seven-minute-long video.
Yet the Press TV report was false: The only act of piracy, it turns out, was carried out by Iran.
The oil export monitoring service Tanker Trackers Inc. monitored the incident as it unfolded and provided a summary based on data about the Sothys’ activities. (It should be noted that Tanker Trackers said the hijacking took place on October 24, not October 25.)
According to Tanker Trackers, the Sothys departed from the Middle East in June of this year, bound for Longkou, China, with 700,000 barrels of Iranian oil. It is believed the Sothys loaded the oil from a Liberian-flagged vessel called the Oman Pride.
In August, the U.S. Treasury Department had levied sanctions on the Oman Pride and its owners’ company for alleged involvement in smuggling Iranian oil to Asia. Yet, the ship was never confiscated or seized by the U.S. forces, and the sanctions came after the transfer of oil took place in June.
Once the Sothys reached the Chinese port, for unknown reasons it sat for six weeks without unloading. But the tanker then returned to Bandar Abbas in Iran, where it remains.
Vietnamese officials have reportedly been in contact with Iran to negotiate the ship’s return. Meanwhile, on November 4, the Iranian oil carried by the Sothys was reportedly offloaded to an Iranian-flagged vessel in Bandar Abbas.
The New York Times reported that IRGC-linked social media accounts claimed the Sothys was one of four ships confiscated by the U.S. in the Atlantic while en route to Venezuela last August.
However, reports at the time said those vessels, all of which were identified, were sailing under the Liberian flag.
On November 3, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby denied that the U.S. tried to intervene in the IRGC’s operation to seize the ship.
“I've seen the Iranian claims they are absolutely totally false and untrue,” Kirby told reporters. “There was no such effort by U.S. naval assets to seize anything. What this refers to is back on the 24th of October, U.S. Navy assets did monitor Iranian forces, illegally boarding and seizing a merchant vessel in international waters in the Gulf of Oman.”
In the Iranian video, none of the U.S. vessels are seen attempting to intervene. There is audio of a dialogue between the IRGC operatives and one of the U.S. destroyers. When warned to stay away, a voice says in English: “This is a coalition warship conducting routine operations in international waters.”
Although Iranian speedboats can be seen very close to the American vessels, the video does not show any aggressive maneuvering by the latter.
Iran has established a pattern for attacks on oil tankers, including boarding and seizing ships.
Earlier this year, Polygraph.info reported on an attempt by Iranian forces to hijack a cargo ship called the Asphalt Princess. A small group of armed men boarded her and demanded that the crew head to a port in Iran.
Earlier, IRGC units harassed a ship owned by the same Dubai-based company. As in the Sothys incident, the Iranian commandos cruised alongside the ship with armed speedboats while a helicopter landed a squad on the ship’s deck.
In January, a South Korean ship was hijacked to an Iranian port and held until South Korea agreed to release $1 billion in Korean bank accounts frozen under sanctions. And in July 2020, another ship was hijacked near the United Arab Emirates and later found in Iranian waters.