De Faakto Intelligence Research Observatory
State Sponsored Tanker Wars-Open Source Intelligence Notes
Background & Analysis
The seizure of British flagged oil vessels by Iranian forces in the Strait of Hormuz is a response to the detention of the Grace 1, an Iranian flagged oil tanker detained off the coast of Gibraltar, by British forces within its territorial waters. The Grace 1 is suspected of carrying 2.1 million litres of oil destined for Syria. The smuggling of oil to Syria is in contradiction of the European Unions sanctions against the regime of Bashir al Assad regime.
Similar events have occurred recently between the Ukraine and Russia. Ukraine recently seized a Russian oil tanker in the Ukrainian port of Izmail. The vessel was involved in the Kerch Strait incident that took place in late November of 2018. The seizure is a direct retaliation for Russia taking over three Ukrainian naval vessels, as they were preparing to enter the Sea of Azov through the Kerch Strait. During this event the Russian Coast Guard rammed a Ukrainian tugboat and fired on the three Ukrainian ships, injuring up to six crewmembers. Twenty-three Ukrainian sailors are still in Russian custody.
State sponsored detention & seizure of oil tankers is trending as a methodology to curb oil smuggling, demonstrate power & influence and interrupt commerce and trade in the energy sector.
De Faakto intelligence is forecasting the continued escalation of incidents in the Strait of Hormuz. Oil tanker seizures, oil tanker sabotage, harassment and the shooting down of drones will likely occur. Increased presence of British and U.S. naval escorts will provide enhanced security for maritime trade in the region. However the presence of adversarial forces in the Strait of Hormuz will exacerbate tensions within the region, increasing the risk of more serious conflict which may include conventional war. A parallel risk scenario exists between Russia and Ukraine in the Kerch Strait.
Oil Supertanker Grace 1
- Iranian Flagged oil tanker
- Seized on 06 July 2019
- Seized-off the coast of Gibraltar-British territorial waters
- Seized by British Royal Marines and Gibraltar’s police (Reuters, 2019)
Why Was Supertanker Grace 1 Seized?
- The tanker was destined for Syria to deliver oil, in violation of separate sets of EU and US sanctions
- Grace 1 is suspected of smuggling oil to Syria to the Assad regime, in breach of European Union sanctions (Reuters, 2019)
Oil Tanker Stena Impero
- British Flagged oil tanker
- Seized on 19 July 2019
- Seized in the Strait of Hormuz
- Seized by Iranian Forces (Time, 2019)
Why Was Stena Impero Seized?
- Iranian authorities claimed the Stena Impero was “violating international maritime rules”
- Iran claimed it was involved in “fuel smuggling” (France 24, 2019)
Why Was Stena Imperio Really Seized?
- Iranian leaders have suggested the seizure was retaliation for Britain’s role in detaining the Iranian tanker Grace 1 in early July (Time, 2019)
Oil Tanker Mesdar
- British Operated-Liberian registered oil tanker
- Boarded by Iranian navel forces and detained on 19 July 2019
- Detained in the Strait of Hormuz
- The vessel was released after receiving a warning (Reuters, 2019)
Why Was Mesdar Boarded & Detained?
- Oil tanker Mesdar had turned in the direction of Iran
What Were Tanker Mesdars Actions After Being Released?
- After being warned by armed Iranian forces, Mesdar changed course and headed back into the Gulf
Why Does the Strait of Hormuz Matter?
- The Strait of Hormuz, is a vital global oil and gas shipping route (Reuters, 2019)
- The Majority of crude oil exported from Saudi Arabia, Iran, the UAE, Kuwait and Iraq is shipped through this waterway (Haaretz, 2019)
- Qatar is the world’s biggest producer and exporter of liquefied natural gas-nearly all of Qatar’s liquefied natural gas is shipped via the Strait of Hormuz (Haaretz, 2019)
- 100 million barrels of oil per day or one fifth of global oil consumption moves through the Strait of Hormuz (Haaretz, 2019)
Oil Tanker Neyma-AKA Nika Spirit
- Russian flagged oil tanker
- The Neyma was re-named Nika Spirit-to hide involvement in the Kerch incident, according to Ukrainian services
- The vessel was seized in the Ukrainian port of Izmail
- The vessel was seized by Ukrainian Security Services branch SBU
- The crew of Neyma-Nika Spirit was released by the SBU (Moscow Times, 2019)
Why Was The Neyma Seized by Ukrainian Security Services?
- Ukrainian security services said that the tanker had been involved in the Kerch Strait incident in which Russia captured a Ukrainian ship and detained 24 sailors, who are still being held in custody in Russia (The Telegraph, 2019)
- The Russian-flagged Neyma tanker had allegedly blocked Ukrainian warships’ passage under the bridge through the Strait in November of 2018 (Moscow Times, 2019)
Why Does the Kerch Strait Matter?
- The Kerch Strait allows large ocean going vessels to transit from the Black Sea to the Sea of Azov
- The Kerch Strait has been regarded as the area of constant dispute and the place of opposing political interests
- The region has also proven to be highly profitable to the countries that managed to gain control of both banks of the Kerch Strait
- Russia & Ukraine are seeking the protection of its fundamental interests (Warsaw Institute, 2018)
What to Know About the British Flagged Oil Tanker Seized by Iran Amid Escalating Tensions-Time (2019) https://time.com/5631460/stena-impero-britain-iran/
Gibraltar extends detention of Iranian tanker for a month-Reuters (2019) https://www.reuters.com/article/us-mideast-crisis-tanker-gibraltar/gibraltar-extends-detention-of-iranian-tanker-for-a-month-idUSKCN1UE16I
Mesdar manager says vessel resumed voyage after boarded by armed guards-Reuters (2019) https://www.reuters.com/article/mideast-iran-tanker-britain-norbulk/mesdar-manager-says-vessel-resumed-voyage-after-boarded-by-armed-guards-idUSL8N24K63O
Gibraltar, Iran officials hold talks on seized oil tanker-France 24 (2019) https://www.france24.com/en/20190718-gibraltar-iran-officials-hold-talks-seized-oil-tanker
Ukraine Seizes Russian Tanker Over Kerch Incident, Frees Crew After Moscow Pressure-The Moscow Times (2019) https://www.themoscowtimes.com/2019/07/25/ukraine-seizes-russian-tanker-over-kerch-incident-frees-crew-after-moscow-pressure-a66574
Ukraine seizes Russian tanker in Black Sea in retaliation move-The Telegraph (2019) https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2019/07/25/ukraine-seizes-russian-tanker-black-sea-retaliation-move/
Russia’s Strategic Considerations on the Sea of Azov-Warsaw Institute (2018) https://warsawinstitute.org/russias-strategic-considerations-sea-azov/
Strait of Hormuz: UAE ‘Sabotage Attack’ Puts Focus on the World’s Most Important Oil Artery-Haaretz & Reuters (2019) https://www.haaretz.com/us-news/strait-of-hormuz-uae-sabotage-attack-puts-focus-on-world-s-key-oil-artery-1.7226823
UAE Says Four Vessels Subjected to Sabotage Near Fujairah Port-Reuters (2019) https://www.reuters.com/article/us-emirates-fujairah-port-shipping/uae-says-four-vessels-subjected-to-sabotage-near-fujairah-port-idUSKCN1SI0EG