U.S. says Iran forces board ship in worldwide waters

Iran briefly seized oil tanker in Persian Gulf, says US

Central Command published a black-and-white video that appeared to show Iran's "sea king" helicopter lowering individuals onto the MT Wila in worldwide waters.

The Iranian navy boarded and briefly seized a Liberian-flagged oil tanker near the strategic Strait of Hormuz amid heightened tensions between Tehran and the US, a USA military official said Thursday.

The Iranian helicopter involved appeared to be a Sikorsky SH-3 Sea King, which only Iran's navy operates and has been using for decades to help disrupt maritime traffic in the region.

A United States defence official said the Iranians released the vessel, a Liberian-flagged oil and chemicals tanker, after holding it for four to five hours. The Wila made no distress calls before, during and after the seizure, the official said.

In a series of tweets, he quoted a Department of Defense source as saying that "Iranian forces ... boarded the Wila for several hours before letting it on its way". The official said the United States military was not involved in anything other than monitoring the situation.

The seizure of the tanker, called the "Wila", took place in global waters, Central Command wrote on its Twitter post.

Iran threatened earlier to begin collecting a toll from foreign ships passing through the Strait of Hormuz to "compensate" it for the expense of providing "security" for them.

Tension in the region peaked when the United Kingdom seized an Iranian oil tanker off Gibraltar last July, prompting Iran to retaliate by seizing a British-flagged ship.

The US blamed Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps for attacks believed to have been carried out with limpet mines and fast boats, damaging four commercial ships.

The Wila's registered owner is a Liberian firm called Bandit Shipping, managed by Greek firm IMS SA, UN records show.

The last position of the ship, according to tracking website Refinitiv, appeared to be off the UAE's eastern coast, near the city of Khor Fakkan.

In July, a US -sought oil tanker was "hijacked" off the coast of the United Arab Emirates after allegedly smuggling Iranian crude oil.

Tension between Washington and Tehran rose after incidents in May and June 2019 in which ships were attacked while sailing through the Strait of Hormuz, through which about a quarter of the world's oil passes.

The vessel later ended up back in Iranian waters, suggesting Iran seized the vessel.

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