US Seizes Four Iranian Tankers, Now En Route to Houston

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The US has confiscated Iranian fuel from four tankers bound for Venezuela, the Department of Justice confirmed (DoJ).

A warrant was also issued by U.S. District Judge James Boasberg for the seizure of the more than 1.1 million barrels of gasoline in the four vessels aims to stop the flow of revenues from oil sales to Iran, Reuters added.

Iran had planned to transport the gasoline to Venezuela. Tensions have flared in the Strait of Hormuz in recent weeks as Iran resists USA sanctions that are crippling its oil exports and lashes out after the seizure on July 4 of one of its ships near Gibraltar.

The profits that the United States government intends to derive from the sale of seized Iranian oil will go to a fund to aid victims of terrorism "instead of going to those who commit terrorist acts, like the Revolutionary Guards", She said in a press release, referring to the ideological army of the Iranian regime.

US prosecutors filed a lawsuit in July to seize the gasoline aboard the four tankers, and a judge subsequently issued a warrant for seizure.

The fuel can not be seized until the tankers enter USA territorial waters. Instead, the official said, the United States threatened the ships' owners, insurers and captains with sanctions to force them to hand over the oil.

"We call on Iran to explain its actions to the worldwide community and articulate its legal basis for its actions", Maj Rigsbee said.

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The four vessels - named Luna, Pandi, Bering and Bella - were taken without the use of force and are now on their way to a port in Houston, Texas, the officials said.

"The seizure did not escalate militarily because there were no Iranian naval vessels escorting the tankers that had orders to engage", said Scott Modell, managing director of Rapidan Energy Group. While the report remains uncorroborated and relies exclusively on nameless American officials, the move would come as a steep escalation in Washington's "maximum pressure campaign" on the Islamic Republic, which in recent months has targeted gas shipments to Venezuela.

Hojad Soltani, Iran's ambassador to Venezuela, called US President Donald Trump a "terrorist" and denied the tankers were Iranian, saying the US reports were "yet another lie and psychological warfare".

A United States official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the incident took place near the Strait of Hormuz - through which 20 percent of all oil traded passes - and the ship was released by Iranian forces after five hours.

In July 2019, Iran seized a British-flagged tanker, the Stena Impero, before releasing it in September that year.

"The ships are not Iranian, and neither the owner nor its flag has anything to do with Iran", Hojat Soltani said on Twitter in Spanish. "The terrorist #Trump can not compensate for his humiliation and defeat by Iran using false propaganda". Five Iranian tankers arrived without incident in May and July, delivering about 1.5 million barrels of gasoline and stunning observers who wondered at the time if Iran would so blatantly defy US sanctions efforts.

In July, a US-sought oil tanker was "hijacked" off the coast of the UAE after allegedly smuggling Iranian crude oil.

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