January 11, 2024 | Flash Brief

Iran Seizes Oil Tanker Off Coast of Oman

January 11, 2024 | Flash Brief

Iran Seizes Oil Tanker Off Coast of Oman

Latest Developments

The Iranian navy announced on January 11 that it seized the St. Nikolas oil tanker near the Omani port of Sohar. Iran claims its actions are in retaliation for the American seizure last year of Iranian oil, which is under U.S. sanctions, carried by the St. Nikolas (at the time named the Suez Rajan). Iran also claimed that the St. Nikolas was an American tanker, but Empire Navigation, the Greek firm that manages the vessel, indicated it is not American-owned. The St. Nikolas has a crew of 18 Filipino nationals and one Greek national and was carrying 145,000 tons of crude oil. The vessel had been traveling from the Iraqi port of Basra to the Turkish port of Aliaga.

Expert Analysis

“The Islamic Republic of Iran is the leading threat to freedom of navigation in the Middle East, perpetrating at least 26 harassments, attacks, or seizures between January 2021 and July 2023. Iran often acts as the arsonist posing as the firefighter, professing to care about maritime security while doing the most to undermine it. However, when U.S. Navy and partner vessels are present, Iranian forces tend to back down. The successful instances of halting or deterring malign Iranian maritime activity demonstrate the value of forward-deployed U.S. military forces working alongside partner forces.” — Bradley Bowman, Senior Director of FDD’s Center on Military and Political Power

“The seizure of the St. Nikolas is consistent with Iran’s habit of disrupting merchant shipping when Tehran needs leverage or feels the need to take revenge. The presence of U.S. or other allied naval vessels has often been able to deter or halt this malign activity, but U.S. assets are busy in the Red Sea dealing with one of Iran’s proxies, the Houthis. A long-term strategy will be needed to rebuild freedom of navigation in the Middle East.” — Ryan Brobst, FDD Senior Research Analyst

Houthi Attacks in the Red Sea

Iran’s terror proxy in Yemen, the Houthis, have endangered commercial shipping in the Red Sea by firing drones, cruise missiles, and ballistic missiles in the area. U.S. Central Command stated on January 9 that the Houthis have launched 26 attacks “on commercial shipping lanes in the Red Sea since Nov. 19.” In response, the United States launched Operation Prosperity Guardian on December 18, but many shipping companies have continued to avoid the Red Sea

U.S., UK Shoot Down Largest Houthi Missile and Drone Barrage in Red Sea,” FDD Flash Brief

Iran’s Maritime Aggression,” by Ryan Brobst and Bradley Bowman

Tehran’s terror proxy in Yemen targets Israel and international shipping,” by Ryan Brobst and Bradley Bowman


Gulf States Iran Iran Global Threat Network Iran-backed Terrorism Military and Political Power U.S. Defense Policy and Strategy