06:05 GMT29 January 2020
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    Iran has seized multiple commercial vessels attempting to engage in oil smuggling operations in recent months. This summer, the country's maritime security forces boarded and detained a British oil tanker they said had violated multiple safety regulations.

    Naval units of Iran's Revolutionary Guards have seized a ship near Abu Musa Island, near the entrance to the Strait of Hormuz, Iran's Islamic Republic News Agency has reported.

    According to the news agency, the vessel was detained after attempting to smuggle an estimated 1.3 million litres of fuel; 16 Malaysian crew members were on board.

    It's remains unclear what flag the vessel was sailing under.

    Abu Musa Island is situated about 150 km southwest of the narrowest point in the Strait of Hormuz.

    Iran is known to carefully police the waters of the Persian Gulf for potential oil smuggling operations and other violations of maritime law. In September, the coast guard detained a ship allegedly carrying nearly 284,000 litres of smuggled diesel fuel to the UAE. The same month, the Revolutionary Guard seized seven trawlers engaged in illegal fishing operations.

    In July, Iran detained the Stena Impero, a British-flagged oil tanker, accusing it of ignoring safety regulations, turning off its communications equipment and ramming into an Iranian fishing vessel. The Stena Impero's detention was part of a months' long diplomatic row between Tehran and London, amid of tit-for-tat accusations of "piracy" on the high seas by both countries owing to the UK's earlier seizure of an Iranian oil tanker off Gibraltar. Both vessels were eventually released.

    The summer's standoff led Washington to announce that it would be putting together a 'maritime security coalition', with the UK, Albania, Australia and several Gulf countries joining in. Iran has blasted efforts by 'outsiders' to engage in security patrols in the region, and proposed the creation of its own 'security coalition' with other states in the region. The US's French and German allies have refused to take part in the US-led operation, while Japan announced last week that it would be sending its own small naval force to the region, having received Iran's approval.

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