A group of men with “black military-style uniforms and black masks”, according to British military sources, captured this Thursday an oil tanker in the Gulf of Oman – between Iran and Oman – which could be the origin of a new crisis between Tehran and Washington.

The Iranian navy confirmed hours later that they were responsible for the capture of “an American oil tanker” and that it was an action in response to the North American seizure last year of a ship transporting Iranian oil. “The offending tanker Suez Rajan… stole Iranian oil by taking it to the US and handed it over to the Americans,” Iranian state television said, citing a court order for his capture. The station noted that the ship was seized by the country’s navy, not by Revolutionary Guard militants, as had happened on previous occasions.

State television made reference to the ship captured in February 2022 on suspicion of transporting Iranian oil, bypassing the sanctions imposed by the US.

It was the state agency Tasnim that initially reported that “the Navy of the Islamic Republic of Iran announced the seizure of a US oil tanker in the waters of the Sea of ‚Äč‚ÄčOman by court order,” it said, citing a statement from the Iranian naval force. However, the ship that Iran makes “American” flies the flag of the Marshall Islands.

However, the oil vessel seized both times has changed its name and flag. The former Suez Rajan is now called St-Nikolas and is associated with a Greek shipping company called Empire Navigation. She told the AP agency that she had lost contact with the ship on which a crew of 18 Filipinos and a Greek citizen were traveling. “Our company is not aware that there is a court order or that the Iranian navy has seized the vessel. No one has contacted us yet,” the shipping company said.

The ship came from Iraq and was carrying crude oil bound for the port of Aliaga, on the Turkish Aegean coast, to be refined by the local company Tupras. The first warning of irregularities was given this morning by the United Kingdom, which declared that it had received a security report about an incident in an area near the Strait of Hormuz. UK soldiers described hearing “unknown voices on the phone” with the ship’s captain and said they subsequently lost communication. They only knew that a group of men in “black military-style uniforms and wearing black masks” had boarded the ship.

Since 2019, the United States has confiscated several ships loaded with Iranian oil for allegedly trying to evade sanctions imposed on Tehran. Iran and militias under its command are blamed for attacks on ships in waters near its border against American vessels, although Tehran has not acknowledged it.

Although these types of incidents have not stopped, they were put on the back burner with the outbreak of the war in the Gaza Strip. The Iranian action comes at a time of serious regional tensions, with increased hostilities between Lebanon and Israel, airstrikes in Syria and Iraq, and attacks by Yemen’s Houthis on commercial ships crossing the Red Sea. These hostilities involve Israel and its main ally, the United States, against militias or armed groups close to Iran. Last Tuesday saw the biggest escalation in the Red Sea, when the United States and the United Kingdom shot down 21 Yemen Houthi drones, in the biggest attack since the insurgents launched an offensive in response to Israel’s war in Gaza.