(MENAFN - The Peninsula) A small oil tanker that has apparently gone missing in the Gulf isn't owned or operated by the United Arab Emirates and hasn't sent out a distress call, a UAE official said.
The Panamanian-flagged Riah, which entered Iranian waters and stopped transmitting its location, also "does not carry Emirati personnel, said Salem AlZaabi, director of the International Security Cooperation Department at the UAE's Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The UAE is monitoring the situation with international partners, he added.
The vessel was passing through the Strait of Hormuz, a shipping chokepoint at the mouth of the Gulf, before it went silent more than two days ago in unexplained circumstances, according to the Associated Press. The news agency said the US "has suspicions that Iran took control of the tanker, citing an unidentified defense official.
The disappearance was first reported by CNN's Barbara Starr, who said US intelligence increasingly believed the tanker had been forced into Iranian waters by the Revolutionary Guard but that some Gulf sources suggested the ship simply broke down and was towed by Iran.
If the Riah has been seized, it would seem an unusual target for Iran. The vessel is 30 years old and tiny. Its capacity is 2,000 dead weight tons, according to the MarineTraffic website. That is only a fraction of the nearly 160,000-ton capacity of the British Heritage, the UK oil tanker harassed by Iranian ships last week while exiting the Gulf.
While Iran has been blamed for attacks on merchant shipping in recent months, it has denied responsibility. The main threats it has made in the past few weeks have been against the UK after British Royal Marines helped authorities in Gibraltar to seize a supertanker as it carried Iranian crude in the Mediterranean Sea seemingly bound for Syria.
In May and June, six tankers were attacked just outside the Gulf. A British Navy frigate intervened this month to stop Iranian boats from blocking the BP Plc-operated British Heritage as it was exiting the waters.
Iranian officials haven't said anything publicly about the Riah. The US Navy's 5th Fleet, which is based in Bahrain, declined to immediately comment.
-With assistance from Anthony DiPaola and Golnar Motevalli