Iran has freed a Vietnamese oil tanker that it had seized for trying to “steal” its oil in late October following a confrontation with the United States Navy in the Sea of Oman.
The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) in a statement on Wednesday confirmed that the Sothys was freed, but made no mention of its crew or cargo.
Based on satellite imagery, TankerTrackers, which reports shipments and storage of oil online, said Iran has held onto the vessel’s crude oil cargo worth $50m.
The IRGC reiterated its claim that the US wished to steal its oil, “but the operation of the navy force of the terrorist US army was foiled” after the group’s elite forces boarded the ship.
The IRGC seized the ship on October 24 after its troops boarded it in a heliborne operation. They were then confronted by US Navy vessels and aircraft, but warned them off and returned the ship to Iranian shores.
Iran claimed the US attempted to seize its oil in an effort to enforce its unilateral sanctions imposed in 2018 after abandoning Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal.
But the US denied the claim, saying its forces were only there to monitor the situation and had made no effort to “steal” the Iranian oil.
The incident was publicised by the IRGC on November 3, a day before the 42nd anniversary of the takeover of the US embassy in Tehran, an event Iranian officials celebrate annually.
On Wednesday, the IRGC held a ceremony to laud its members that took part in the “epic” operation to seize the Sothys, and Commander-in-Chief Hossein Salami said the “unforgettable” day will go down in history.
“This major victory was very limited and small in terms of geography and scale, but had a huge impact in terms of its scope of humiliating the enemy,” he said.
During the ceremony, IRGC commander Alireza Tangsiri made a reference to dramatic footage of the incident that was aired by Iranian state television, and said the US is lying that its forces were only there to monitor the situation.
“The American ships were less than 30 meters [98.4 feet] away from our vessels and forces,” he said. “If they only wanted to monitor then they could do it from longer distances or even use aircraft and drones”.
Iran held a large-scale military drill east of the Strait of Hormuz and in the Sea of Oman earlier this week.
The incident comes as Iran and world powers will head to Vienna on November 29 to resume talks to restore the nuclear deal, which will likely lead to the lifting of US sanctions on Tehran.