Iranian forces used two ships and a helicopter to board a tanker called the Wila in international waters, U.S. Central Command said in a tweet on Wednesday.
The ship was most recently near the Strait of Hormuz, a critical trade choke-point that borders Iran and accounts for about one-third of the world’s seaborne oil flows. Iran last year seized a British oil tanker in the strait for about two months, flaring tensions with the U.S. and boosting oil price volatility.
The Wila was eventually released by Iranian forces, and the U.S. military was not involved in anything other than monitoring, Reuters reported, citing an unidentified official with knowledge of the matter. The White House and National Security Council did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Wila, a chemicals and oil products tanker sailing under the Liberian flag, has been floating off the eastern coast of the United Arab Emirates for about a month, according to ship-tracking data compiled by Bloomberg. Its previous stop was about July 8 near the Iraqi oil terminal of Al Basra, where its draft increased, indicating it picked up a shipment, according to the data.
With a capacity of about 50,000 barrels, the Wila is relatively small compared to the tankers that ship Middle East crude, which are usually up to 2 million barrels.
In 2018, the Trump administration imposed a “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran with the aim to cut off oil exports, a crucial source of revenue. Overseas sales dropped from 2.5 million barrels a day in April 2018 to just under 200,000 barrels last month, according to Bloomberg’s latest tracking data.
The U.S. has also recently stepped up efforts to limit trade between Iran and Venezuela, which are both under American sanctions. Five Iranian tankers carrying a total of 1.5 million barrels of gasoline arrived in Venezuela in May and June. U.S. prosecutors last month said they’re seeking to seize the gasoline on board four more Venezuela-bound Iranian vessels.