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Masked men seize tanker in Strait of Hormuz

Photo: AdobeStock Front view of tanker at sea
File photo of tanker
The UK Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO), which advises vessel operators on incidents involving shipping, has reported that up to five armed masked men boarded a tanker in the Gulf of Oman in the early hours of this morning.

The tanker has been identified as the Suezmax St Nikolas, a 158,500 dwt carrier whose beneficial owner is the Greece-based Empire Navigation.

A maritime security expert, who wanted to remain anonymous said: “Iran has confirmed that it was responsible for the hijacking of the oil tanker MV St Nikolas near Oman on January 11, 2024. The US-controlled and Greek-operated tanker was carrying 145,000 tonnes of oil from Iraq to Turkey. The incident has escalated the crisis from the Bab al-Mandeb Strait to the Hormuz Strait."

A company spokesperson told Seatrade Maritime News: “The company lost contact with the St Nikolas at about 6:30am Greek time, this morning [11 January], we have no other information, but we have contacted all the relevant authorities.”

Unconfirmed reports suggest that security cameras were covered after six armed men boarded the vessel.

The company added: “The vessel is manned with a total of 19 crew members: 18 Filipino and one of Greek Nationality. The vessel had loaded the previous days in Basrah (Iraq) a cargo of about 145,000 tonnes of crude oil destined to Aliaga (Turkey), via the Suez Canal. The charterer of the vessel is Tupras.”

UKMTO said that Empire’s company security officer reported “Hearing unknown voices over the phone along with the master’s voice.” However, the company was unable to make further contact following the original call.

According to VesselsValue AIS data the ships was heading for Aliaga port in Turkey, but AIS now shows the vessel steaming at around 10 knots north towards the Iranian coast. Although it remains some 80-100km south of Iran at the time of writing.

Sky News reported today that “suspicion immediately fell on Iran, as the vessel was once involved in a dispute with the US Justice Department that saw a million barrels of Iranian crude oil seized.”

Previously named the Suez Rajan, the ship was used by Empire Navigation to smuggle Iranian crude in 2022. The company pleaded guilty to the charges and agreed to pay a $2.4 million fine.

St Nikolas was boarded just south of the Strait of Hormuz through which 20% of oil traded globally passes.