After a former IRGC commander exhorted his government to take a British oil tanker hostage following the seizure by Royal Marines last week of a vessel hauling Iranian crude, an oil tanker run by British Petroleum is sheltering in the Persian Gulf over fears it could soon be seized by Iran in a tit-for-tat response, Bloomberg reports.
The tanker, which is named 'British Heritage', is able to haul about 1 million barrels of crude. It had been sailing toward Iraq’s Basrah oil terminal when it made an abrupt U-turn over the weekend.
The ship is now hanging out near Saudi Arabia's coast because BP is reportedly worried that the vessel could be targeted if Iran seeks to retaliate for the seizure of the tanker Grace 1 on Thursday.
The Grace 1 was seized after being caught transporting Iranian crude, in breach of sanctions.
British Heritage, registered in the Isle of Man and flying under the British flag, had been chartered by Royal Dutch Shell Plc to transport crude from Basrah to northwest Europe. However, it never collected its cargo and the booking was canceled.
Of course, the ship won’t be able to pass through the Strait of Hormuz, the chokepoint through which about 1/3 of global oil shipped by sea moves, without sailing close to Iran’s coast. It's unclear how long the ship will be sheltering for.
Iran’s deputy foreign minister said on Sunday he considered the seizure of Grace 1 to be an 'act of piracy,' while a former leader of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard said the Islamic Republic should take a British tanker in response.
While it's owners apparently believe the British Heritage to be 'safe' in Saudi custody, we wouldn't be surprised if it was conveniently and mysteriously 'bombed' like the handful of other tankers over the past few months - an incident that the UK and KSA would have no problem pinning on the Iranians.
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My reasoning is based on the following facts. The first is that the British seizure of the Iranian tanker at the instigation of the Americans was aimed at currying favour with the United States.
The second fact is that if not for the United States and its proxies occupying Syria’s oilfields in addition to imposing sanctions on Syria, Syria wouldn’t have had to import oil.
The third fact is that the United States’ and the European Union’s sanctions on Syria are illegal as they were not endorsed by the United Nations. The United Sates and the EU have for years been supplying weapons to rebels seeking to oust President Bashar Al-Assad while imposing devastating sanctions on Syria including starving the populace of fuel.
The fourth fact is that the British action claimed to be based on EU sanctions against Syria could be a crude attempt by Britain to exacerbate relations between the EU and Iran at a time Britain is leaving the EU and also at a time Iran has lessened some clauses in the Iran nuclear deal as an act of unhappiness about the EU not doing enough to help it overcome Us sanctions.
Dr Mamdouh G Salameh
International Oil Economist
Visiting Professor of Energy Economics at ESCP Europe Business School, London