Crude oil near 3-month high on tension over Iranian detention of British naval personnel

Oil prices were flat in Asian trading Tuesday, hovering near three-month highs, amid lingering tension over Iran's detention of 15 British naval personnel.

Light, sweet crude for May delivery on the Nymex fell a cent to US$62.90 a barrel in electronic trading mid-afternoon in Singapore, a day after it rose as high as US$63.30 a barrel in New York, a level not seen for the front-month contract since Dec. 21.

Brent crude delivery for May gained 5 cents to US$64.46 a barrel on the ICE Futures exchange in London.

Iran detained the sailors and marines Friday, triggering concerns it may lead to a cut in Persian Gulf exports and from Iran, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries' second-largest producer behind Saudi Arabia.

Iran said Monday it was questioning the 15 to determine if they had "intentionally" crossed over into Iranian waters, a sign that it could be seeking a way out of the impasse. Britain maintains the men were in Iraqi territory.

Eurasia Group analyst Greg Priddy said he believed the standoff would be resolved without incident - though not immediately.

"There is a potential for miscalculation but that's not the most likely outcome," he said, according to Dow Jones Newswires.

London-based Energyintel analyst Jane Collin said in a research note that a similar incident occurred in 2004, but was settled peacefully. But she said, "This time, the stakes are significantly higher."

Iran is already at loggerheads with the West over its uranium enrichment program, and has decided to partially cut cooperation with the U.N. atomic watchdog agency in response to the U.N. Security Council's vote over the weekend to approve additional sanctions on Tehran.

On Wednesday, the United States will release its weekly petroleum supply report, a key indicator of usage in the world's largest energy consumer. Gasoline supplies have fallen for the past six weeks ahead of the summer driving season when demand usually peaks, reports AP.

In other Nymex prices, gasoline was down 0.29 cents US$2.0648 per gallon (3.8 liters), natural gas was up 2.7 cents to US$7.281 per 1,000 cubic feet while heating oil fell 0.35 cents to US$1.7726 per gallon.

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