In the afternoon of August 12th, the product tanker WILA was boarded by Iranian Special Forces from a helicopter, in international waters off Khor Fakkan Anchorage, UAE, Gulf of Oman, according to USA Navy and Gulf media reports. Most probably, the tanker is deployed in bunkering operations in UAE waters. According to the statements, the tanker AIS was off during some 2 hours, then reappeared, during the night of August 13th, because she was either cruising at slow speed or drifting, north of Khor Fakkan Anchorage.
IMRRA, FleetMon’s official Vessel Risk Rating Partner, assessed this tanker as having RED risk rating, with a specific risk rating of 52% (in February 2019), compared to the fleet average 36% (Red: Poorest performing; Amber: Average value; Green: Good indicator).
The oil tanker was briefly seized, being held for some five hours before being released, as shown by media published videos and released by the U.S. military’s Central Command, near the Strait of Hormuz. The videos display images of what appear to be Iranian commandos fast-roping down from a helicopter onto the Liberian-flagged oil tanker, amid heightened tensions between Tehran and the U.S., a U.S. military official said Thursday, August 13th. The Wila’s registered owner is a Liberian firm called Bandit Shipping Co., managed by Greek firm IMS SA, according to United Nations records. Neither firm could be immediately reached.
The Wila made no distress calls before, during, and after the seizure, a military official said. On the other hand, the US military did not interfere but kept monitoring the situation.
The Iranian helicopter involved appeared to be a Sikorsky SH-3 Sea King, which only Iran’s navy operates. The Iranian navy also handles all operations in the Gulf of Oman on the eastern side of the Strait of Hormuz, through which 20 percent of all oil traded passes. Also, two other Iranian naval vessels might have taken part in the seizure, Central Command said.
In the aftermath of the events, the U.S. military officials did not offer any reason for Iran seizing the vessel. Iranian state media and officials did not immediately acknowledge the seizure or offer a reason for it.
The Wila had been off Khor Al Zubair, Iraq, in early July before traveling to near Dubai and later Khorfakkan, where it’s been for around a month, according to data firm Refinitiv. It wasn’t clear what cargo it carried.
In addition, due to the increasing tension over the nuclear agreement, the general background for the on-going situation, private maritime intelligence firm Dryad Global said it suspected two other ships had been harassed by Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard in the Persian Gulf over the last week as well, based on the ships’ behavior.
In July, a U.S.-sought oil tanker was “hijacked” off the coast of the United Arab Emirates after allegedly smuggling Iranian crude oil. The vessel later ended up back in Iranian waters, suggesting Iran itself seized the vessel.