Missing UAE tanker; Defining the Game

Edit 6/17/2019, 2:50 PM EST. A point added, highlighted in red. Read down.

(CBC) Iran says its navy came to aid of missing oil tanker Riah as tensions mount in Gulf. Quoting,

“An international oil tanker was in trouble due to a technical fault in the Persian Gulf,” spokesman Abbas Mousavi told the semi-official news agency ISNA.

“After receiving a request for assistance, Iranian forces approached it and used a tugboat to pull it towards Iranian waters for the necessary repairs to be carried out,…”

The tanker is a mini, only 190 feet long, said to be used for local UAE transfer of petroleum. But the UAE denies ownership or crew;  (Khaleej Times) Oil tanker MT Riah not owned by UAE. Quoting,

A UAE official said on Tuesday that the oil tanker MT Riah is not owned by the UAE.

 “The tanker in question is neither UAE owned nor operated.”…”It does not carry Emirati personnel, and did not emit a distress call.”


  • The MT Riah was certainly hijacked by Iran. The absence of a distress call, and deactivation of the tanker’s transponder are evidence enough.
  • The tanker was an attractive  target because the small size and value implied reduced chance of paramilitary presence.
  • The selection was also based upon the pattern of usage, intra-UAE transport, which resulted in the assumption of UAE ownership. The Iranians were wrong.
  • There was little or no representation of Gulf  ethnicities among the crew, or they would have been used as chips.
  • The captive vessel presents no opportunity for Iran to pressure the Gulf alliance.
  • The failure of Iran to name the tanker, crew, and mechanical defect  indicates  control by higher echelons of power,  which have not settled on the “story.” Internal conflict along secular-religious lines is possible.
  • The owners will probably get away with a ripoff repair fee.

The Iranians bungled, giving us just a taste of things-to-come. We have a breather to meditate on the main problem. Quoting  Iranian boats attempted to seize British tanker,

The Iranians are doubtless studying this [Gen. Dunford’s] statement, looking for space in which they can operate. It offers Iran local superiority (see Lanchester’s Laws) that could not be achieved against a unified military response. It fails to accord Iran respect for the strength that comes from desperation.

The Western response may follow the  course of the four-year initial inability  to deal with Somali pirates. The slowness of the EU learning curve in dealing with the ancient menace of piracy was striking. Paying off the pirates encouraged more piracy. while jurisdictional issues of international law and reluctance to use force paralyzed punishment and deterrence.

Iran is far more resourceful than Somali pirates. There is no simple prescriptive solution, because this is a game. Games require both strategy and tactics. In the past, problems such as these have been simulated by State and DoD in the form of board-game simulations played  by specialist students of the various actors.

A brief description of such a game is given by Miles Copeland, CIA plank-owner, in his book, The Game of Nations.





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