Tracking data shows an oil tanker based in the United Arab Emirates traveling through the Strait of Hormuz drifted off into Iranian waters and stopped transmitting its location over two days ago, raising concerns Tuesday about its status amid heightened tensions between Iran and the U.S.
It is not clear what happened to the Panamanian-flagged oil tanker Riah late on Saturday night. However, its last position showed it pointing toward Iran. Oil tankers have previously been targeted as the Persian Gulf region took center stage in a crisis over Iran’s unraveling nuclear deal with world powers.
The concern about the Riah comes as Iran continues its own high-pressure campaign over its nuclear program after President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew America from the accord over a year ago.
Recently Iran has inched its uranium production and enrichment up over the limits of its 2015 nuclear deal, trying to put more pressure on Europe to offer it better terms and allow it to sell its crude oil abroad.
However, those tensions also have seen the U.S. send thousands of additional troops, nuclear-capable B-52 bombers and advanced fighter jets into the Mideast. Mysterious attacks on oil tankers and Iran shooting down a U.S. military surveillance drone have added to the fears of an armed conflict breaking out.
The Riah, a 190-foot oil tanker, typically made trips from Dubai and Sharjah on the UAE’s west coast before going through the strait and heading to Fujairah on the UAE’s east coast. However, something happened to the vessel after 11 p.m. on Saturday, according to tracking data.
Capt. Ranjith Raja of the data firm Refinitiv told The Associated Press on Tuesday that the tanker hadn’t ever before switched off its tracking in three months of trips around the UAE.
“That is a red flag,” Raja said.
Iranian officials have not said anything publicly about the ship, nor have officials in the UAE. The U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet, which oversees Mideast waters, declined to immediately comment.
The ship’s registered owner, Dubai-based Prime Tankers LLC, told the AP it had sold the ship to another company called Mouj Al-Bahar. A man who answered a telephone number registered to the firm told the AP it didn’t own any ships.