The IRGC’s Detention of SC Taipei: Intel Analysis

Hadi Atay Coordinator, Security Studies

The seizure was intended to be a timely offensive in Iran's attempt to raise tension in the Gulf.

Facts

● On April 14, armed men boarded SC Taipei, a Hong Kong-flagged tanker, near the Strait of Hormuz and briefly held the ship before releasing it.

● Maritime security firm Dryad Global reported that the ship was anchored and waiting to approach the Jubail port in Saudi Arabia.

● Although the ship was sailing under the Hong Kong flag, the 22 crew members on board were Chinese and it was licensed to the Shanghai-based Aoxing Ship Management.

The Attack Point in International Waters: 25.683333, 56.983333

 

The SC Taipei ship navigated an estimated 13 knots towards Iran's territorial waters, after being attacked in international waters.

 

Context

● In recent weeks, we have observed an increase in incidents in the Strait of Hormuz. Two gunboats came close to an American-flagged container ship on March 27, while IRGC boats approached a vessel on April 2.

● This incident occurred almost nine months after the 2019 Abqaiq–Khurais attack and an episode of sabotage attacks in the Strait of Hormuz.

● According to Ambrey Intelligence, the IRGC had stepped up activity in recent weeks throughout the Strait of Hormuz, hailing ships via VHF radio systems and conducting brief interdictions.

● Though the area in question is close to the restive Balochistan region, where belligerent Baloch groups have attacked Iranian forces in the past, there is no reported evidence that they have previously attacked shipping.

● The current incident, however, closely resembles the seizure attacks organized by the IRGC against ships sailing through the Gulf last summer. Furthermore, the vessel's tracking data indicates that the armed men took the vessel to Bandar Jask, an action reminiscent of last year’s IRGC operation when they took into custody the crew of the Norwegian-owned tanker Front Altair.

● It is interesting to note that, in March, the U.S. State Department sanctioned the Chinese Aoxing Ship Management for “knowingly engaging in a significant transaction for the purchase, acquisition, sale, transport or marketing of petrochemical products from Iran;” disregarding American sanctions.
 

Military-Political Analysis

● Iran has increasingly relied on China amid the U.S. maximum pressure campaign. The quick release of the ship indicates that the IRGC Navy initially misidentified the nationality of the tanker and did not know of the ship's Chinese ownership until they seized the vessel; especially noting that the ship's owners are associated with Shanghai-based Aoxing Ship Management.

● In addition to threatening U.S. troops in Iraq, Iran is stepping up pressure on the U.S. and its allies in the Gulf. The seizure was intended to be a timely offensive in Iran's attempt to raise tension in the Gulf.

● Looking from a military capability perspective, the details of the failed operation point to an intelligence failure and also suggest that the IRGC could not pilot drones in the area, and potentially lacks an "effective" radar system to track and detect ships.

● While this operation has failed, it indicates that Iran intends to intensify its efforts to heighten tensions in the Gulf once again.

IRGC, Gulf Security, Strait of Hormuz, China, US

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