WASHINGTON, DC -- The United States on Wednesday (November 3) dismissed Iran's version of a recent incident in the Sea of Oman, in which the Islamic Republic accused the US Navy of seizing a vessel carrying Iranian oil, as a "bogus claim".
Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) last week claimed it had thwarted an attempt by the US Navy to seize a vessel carrying Iranian oil.
In a statement on its Sepahnews website (the IRGC's main media outlet), the IRGC said US forces had seized the oil-laden tanker and "transferred its cargo to another tanker".
It claimed the IRGC's naval forces, with air support, had then captured the second tanker, thwarting an alleged second attempt by the US Navy to retake the vessel, according to the statement.
But US defence officials sharply rejected that account, saying Iranians themselves had seized the tanker -- just one, reportedly a Vietnamese-flagged vessel -- and taken it to Iranian waters.
"I've seen [the] Iranian claims. They are absolutely, totally false and untrue," Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said during a Wednesday press briefing.
"There was no such effort by US naval assets to seize anything."
In fact, Vietnam's foreign ministry told reporters Thursday that it would "work closely with Iranian competent authorities to resolve this issue".
On October 24, Kirby said, "US Navy assets did monitor Iranian forces, illegally boarding and seizing a merchant vessel in international waters in the Gulf of Oman".
The US Navy's 5th Fleet "directed two ships and aerial assets to closely monitor that situation", he said, adding that at no time were US forces attempting to retake or otherwise engage in the situation.
The 5th Fleet is responsible for an area of operations encompassing about 6.5 million sq. km of water that includes the Arabian Gulf, Red Sea, Gulf of Oman and parts of the Indian Ocean.
US forces "acted completely in accordance with the law", he said, dismissing the IRGC's version of events as "a bogus claim".
'Blatant violation of international law'
"It's a ridiculous claim," Kirby said. "It's absolutely not true. And I would add that Iran's actions, the ones that are true, of them illegally boarding and seizing a merchant vessel, constitute a blatant violation of international law."
"That undermines freedom of navigation and the free flow of commerce."
"The only seizing that was done was by Iran," he said.
US forces "monitor maritime traffic every day out there", he said, noting that he was only addressing the October 24 incident "because the Iranians lied about it".
Another US official, speaking on grounds of anonymity, also rejected Tehran's account and said the Iranians had themselves taken control of the tanker.
The official said the two US vessels, together with aerial support, only watched the operation by IRGC forces.
"We were directed to closely monitor, and not to engage," the official said.
Aerial videos posted by Iran's Fars news agency show US naval vessels and much smaller Iranian speedboats following and circling the tanker.
The incident came in the wake of a series of attacks on commercial vessels in the sea lanes serving the Arabian Gulf, where a large portion of the world's oil is produced and shipped.