Iran has seized a foreign tanker with 12 crew smuggling fuel in the Gulf, state television quoted Iran's Revolutionary Guards as saying on Thursday.
The report says the tanker was smuggling fuel from Iranian smugglers to foreign customers and was intercepted south of Iran's Larak Island in the strategic Strait of Hormuz.
'A foreign vessel smuggling one million litres of fuel in the Lark Island of the Persian Gulf has been seized,' the station said, adding that the ship was seized on Sunday.
The Revolutionary Guards said the impounded vessel was the same one it towed after it sent a distress call.
The TV didn't identify the tanker or say which country the crew were from.
'The vessel that Iran towed to its waters after receiving a distress call, was later seized with the order from the court as we found out that it was smuggling fuel,' the Guards said in a statement quoted by state television.
An oil tanker based in the United Arab Emirates known as MT Riah disappeared off trackers in Iranian territorial waters on Saturday night.
The vessel vanished when its transponder was switched off in the Strait of Hormuz.
Adding to the mystery, the UAE has refuted claims that the oil tanker belongs to them and said there were no Emirati crew on board.
Iran's foreign ministry told state media in the Islamic Republic that its forces had aided a foreign oil tanker which developed a malfunction.
U.S. officials have expressed suspicion that the Panamanian-flagged oil tanker Riah had been seized in Iranian territorial waters.
The seizure comes as tensions mount between the United States and Iran over the unravelling nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers.
The U.S. has sent thousands of additional troops, nuclear-capable B-52 bombers and advanced fighter jets into the Mideast amid the heightened tensions.
Britain announced earlier this week it will send a third warship to the Gulf amid a tense stand-off with Iran.
The Ministry of Defence said Type 23 frigate HMS Kent would deploy to the Gulf later this year as part of Operation Kipion, the UK's mission in the region, after days of threats to British shipping.
The MoD insists that the movements are 'long-planned' and not an escalation, but they come after weeks of tension in the Gulf which heightened further when Britain seized an Iranian tanker off Gibraltar two weeks ago.
Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei warned on Tuesday that the seizure of an Iranian oil tanker in Gibraltar would not go unanswered.
He called the seizure of the Iranian tanker 'piracy' and added: 'God willing, the Islamic Republic and its committed forces will not leave this evilness without a response.'
Iran has recently increased uranium production and enrichment over the limits of its 2015 nuclear deal, trying to put more pressure on Europe to offer it better terms and allow it to sell its crude oil abroad.
© Associated Newspapers Ltd.