On May 28, Iran Foreign Ministry spokesman, Saeed Khatibzadeh, addressed his country’s seizure of two Greek oil tankers in the Persian Gulf.
Iranian media announced the operation, conducted by the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), on May 27. The group’s navy released video of the tankers, the Delta Poseidon and the Prudent Warrior, showing armed soldiers descending from helicopters onto one of the vessels.
The paramilitary IRGC claimed the two ships were captured for “violations,” but on the day of the seizure, Iran’s Nour News reported that the operation was a retaliatory move against Greece.
That is because in April, Greece seized the Russian-flagged tanker Lana in cooperation with U.S. sanctions. On May 26, oil on the Lana was transferred to another vessel, Reuters reported.
Referencing Greece, Khatibzadeh seemed to offer an olive branch, saying:
“Our ties must not be hampered by deeply short-sighted miscalculations, including highway robbery on the command of a 3rd party.”
But the claim of "highway robbery" is misleading because it overlooks the complexities of U.S. and EU sanctions affecting Iran and Russian entities targeted because of the war against Ukraine.
The Associated Press reported that the Greek Coast Guard held the ship because of suspicion it was in violation of EU sanctions imposed on Russia over the Ukraine war.
The sanctions include banning a wide variety of imports and exports in addition to prohibiting Russian-flagged ships from docking in EU ports. When the ship was seized in April 15, it was flying a Russian flag and carrying 19 Russian crew members.
The vessel is also subject to U.S. sanctions. On February 22, Lana, under a former name, was targeted by the U.S. Treasury as one of five vessels with suspect Russian connections.
From 2003 to 2012 the vessel operated as the Montiron, according to the Electronic Quality Shipping Information System (EQUASIS). Other names included Herm and Texas Star. In 2020, it became the Perun, then the Pegas.
One week after the Treasury named it a “blocked property,” the name was changed to Lana, according to EQUASIS. The tanker had been owned by a subsidiary of the state-owned Russian financial firm PSB, which Treasury described as the “Russian state defense bank.”
United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI), a bipartisan advocacy group in the U.S., said the Lana was laden with 700,000 barrels of Iranian oil loaded from Iran’s Siri Island and was heading to the Turkish port of Marmara. The tanker has a history of transporting Iranian oil, UANI said.
“In 2021, PEGAS transported more than 3 million barrels of Iranian oil to customers globally, with over 2.6 million of those barrels ending up in China,” UANI said.
A day before the Lana was unloaded, the Treasury sanctioned an arm of the IRGC called the Quds Force based on oil smuggling and money laundering allegations.
Treasury said Quds Force officials facilitated the sale of millions of dollars’ worth of Iranian oil for the Shiite Muslim Hezbollah party and the IRGC Quds Force through a network that had Turkish and Lebanese connections.
The network is “backed by senior levels of the Russian Federation government and state-run economic organs,” Treasury said in a news release." [The network] has acted as a critical element of Iran’s oil revenue generation, as well as its support for proxy militant groups that continue to perpetuate conflict and suffering throughout the [Mideast] region.”
The IRGC is designated by the U.S., E.U. and the United Nations as a terrorist organization. The Quds Force is the elite paramilitary wing of the IRGC, specializing in espionage, and has developed relations with militias in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Afghanistan.
According to Tanker Trackers, an online service that monitors sea shipments and crude oil storage, the Delta Poseiden is being held north of Iran's Larak Island, while the Prudent Warrior is anchored in the southern Iranian port of Bandar Abbas.
Greece has called the seizures illegal and claims that, under international conventions and European court rulings, Iran had no grounds to retaliate.