Washington is taking steps to expand the U.S.-flagged commercial tanker fleet, which transports oil for the U.S. military and could start placing Navy and Marine personnel on tankers traversing the Strait of Hormuz, Reuters reports.
For 2023, Washington’s goal is to charter 10 vessels for up to $6 million per year each, while nine vessels have so far been added to the roster, with agreements running up to 2035. Next year, the Department of Defense plans to add an additional 10 vessels to the program. The expansion of the Defense Department’s Tanker Security Program comes amid fears of economic disruption should the U.S. military decide to divert tankers from domestic trade, Reuters noted, citing a Defense Ministry study.
The expansion of the U.S.-flagged tanker fleet comes a month after the deployment of Navy and Marine forces in the Middle East to support efforts to secure the Strait of Hormuz in the wake of hijackings by Iran.
The Strait of Hormuz is a critical choke point for oil shipping between the Arabian Sea and the Persian Gulf.
In July, the Iranian navy attempted to seize two vessels, one in the Strait of Hormuz and another in the Gulf of Oman, while the U.S. military said it prevented Iran from seizing two commercial tankers near the coast of Oman.
U.S. Centcom says Iran has made moves on some 20 merchant vessels since 2021 alone. In early August, European countries warned of an increased threat level in the Strait of Hormuz, where nearly one-fifth of the world’s oil passes. At the same time, the U.S. deployed a 3,000-strong contingent of Navy sailors and Marines to the Middle East on August 6, along with more fighter jets and warships.
By Charles Kennedy for Oilprice.com