The Iranian navy has boarded and briefly seized a Liberian-flagged oil tanker near the Strait of Hormuz, an American military official has said.
Footage shared by US Central Command allegedly shows Iranian forces descending from a helicopter on to the MT Wila, whose last position appeared to be off the eastern coast of the UAE, near the city of Khorfakkan.
The Wila made no distress calls before, during or after the seizure, according to the official.
The helicopter involved appeared to be a Sikorsky SH-3 Sea King, which is only operated by Iran’s navy.
Two other Iranian naval vessels also took part in the seizure, US Central Command said.
The US military did not offer any explanation for Iran seizing the ship.
The Wila’s registered owner is a Liberian firm called Bandit Shipping, managed by Greek firm IMS SA, according to United Nations records.
According to data firm Refinitiv, the vessel had been off Khor Al Zubair, Iraq, in early July before travelling near Dubai and later Khorfakkan, where it has been for around a month.
Dryad Global, a private maritime intelligence firm, said it suspected two other ships had been harassed by Iran’s parliamentary Revolutionary Guard in the Persian Gulf over the last week, based on the ships' behaviour.
All operations in the Gulf of Oman, on the eastern side of the Strait of Hormuz through which 20% of all traded oil passes, are handled by the Iranian Navy.
Tensions between Iran and the US grew last year after America’s unilateral withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear deal.
As a result, tankers sailing in the Middle East became targets, particularly near the Strait of Hormuz.
The US blamed Iran for suspected limpet mine attacks that targeted several tankers.
Iran denied being involved, although it did seize a number of tankers, including the British-flagged Stena Impero vessel in July 2019.
Last month, a US-sought oil tanker was "hijacked" off the coast of the UAE after allegedly smuggling crude oil.
It later ended up back in Iranian waters, suggesting Iran seized the vessel.
The Royal Navy is part of a multi-national coalition in the region, tasked with safeguarding merchant shipping.
Coalition Task Force (CTF) Sentinel was setup last year following heightened tensions in the Gulf.