23 February 2024
A Greek vessel was boarded this morning by several “unauthorized” people wearing military-style black uniforms and masks in the Gulf of Oman.
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The United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) reported this morning that several “unauthorized” people wearing military-style black uniforms and masks boarded a ship in the Gulf of Oman, with TankerTrackers.com able to confirm the ship in question is the Greek vessel St Nikolas, formerly known as Suez Rajan.
“This is the vessel that was seized by the US government last year with its 1 million barrel cargo of Iranian oil; which was then delivered to Houston, Texas,”TankerTrackers.com
The incident took place outside the Strait of Hormuz, in waters between Oman and Iran. Particularly, the UK maritime security consultant, Ambrey suggested that 6 people have boarded the Greek vessel. This is the latest attack on merchant shipping during this period of extreme instability in the 3 months since Israel and Hamas initiated a war, which drew the Houthis from Yemen, backed by Iranian firepower and intelligence, into the conflict.
The Boarded Greek Vessel
The 2011-built Suezmax vessel is owned by Greece’s Empire Navigation. In September last year, Empire Navigation admitted to violating US sanctions by shipping a cargo of Iranian crude oil aboard the same ship.
Moreover, Washington state seized the tanker in last year’s April. The vessel was caught transferring oil off Singapore. Following the arrest, Empire Navigation entered into a deferred prosecution agreement with the US, pledging to transport some 800,000 barrels of illicit Iranian crude to the US for seizure and forfeiture. Iran responded to the arrest by seizing two tankers in the Strait of Hormuz within the space of a week.
Houthis Attacks & Consequences
The boarding of the St Nikolas follows a period of immense volatility for merchant shipping in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden with a significant swathe of the merchant fleet opting to sail via the Cape of Good Hope over fears of being targeted by Iranian-backed Houthis, who have attacked a total of 26 ships since early November.
The United Nations Security Council on Wednesday demanded Yemen’s Houthis immediately end attacks on ships in the Red Sea and cautioned against escalating tensions while endorsing a US-led task force that has been defending vessels with further details emerging of the most severe attacks to date which occurred on Tuesday.
As a consequence of the attacks in the Red Sea, there is a great diminution of traffic in the southern part of the area. Specifically, 90% of vessels have disappeared compared to last year’s number. This is because ships avoid crossing the Suez Canal and the Mediterranean Sea for their safety, and they are forced to reroute all the way around the Cape of Good Hope. On a typical trip from Shanghai to Rotterdam this reroute results in twice the distance. Hence, during the last couple of months, the delivery costs have almost doubled due to the Houthis creating this bottleneck and affecting world trade.
The UK’s defense minister, Grant Schapps, described the attacks on the HMS Diamond destroyer on Tuesday as the largest attack on a Royal Navy warship in decades. The destroyer was involved in attacks in the southern Red Sea using the weapon sea viper, an expensive but accurate method to take down the Houthis drones.
Piracy has been a challenge throughout history, but in recent years, it has transformed into a well-organized criminal business that poses a problem for the shipping industry and is a serious threat to seafarers. Today’s marine pirates are no longer interested in primitive “smash and grab” attacks. Instead, they hijack vessels to kidnap crew and steal valuable cargo. These modern-day pirates are usually well-informed about their potential victim ship and are adequately armed for the job. The challenge arising, therefore, is how to protect against such a force.