Iran’s Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) on Friday seized British oil tanker Stena Impero, and briefly detained a second ship sailing under a Liberian flag, in the Strait of Hormuz, increasing tensions with the West.
The UK on Saturday issued a warning that it would take “robust” action should Iran not release the British-flagged oil tanker.
The director general of Iran’s Ports and Maritime Organization’s local office claimed that the British tanker was seized because it ignored calls from a fishing boat after an accident in the Strait of Hormuz. He argued that the sailors on the damaged fishing boat had contacted the British tanker, but it ignored their calls.
“When the British vessel did not respond to the fishing vessel, they informed the Ports and Maritime Organization’s office,” the Iranian official said, adding that his office had asked the IRGC to stop the British tanker.
Stena Bulk, which owns the tanker, said it was unable to make contact with it. A spokesman for the owners said the tanker was in “full compliance with all navigation and international regulations.” According to the company, the tanker had 23 crew members: Russians, Latvians and Filipinos, and no one knows if any of them have been injured.
Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif responded to Britain’s warnings on Saturday tweeting: “Unlike the piracy in the Strait of Gibraltar, our action in the Persian Gulf is to uphold int’l maritime rules. UK must cease being an accessory to #EconomicTerrorism of the US.”
On Friday, the Gibraltar supreme court extended by 30 days the detention of the Iranian tanker Grace, which is loaded with an estimated 2 million barrels of Iranian crude oil, and was seized on July 4 for breaching European Union sanctions on oil shipments to Syria.
British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said “these seizures are unacceptable,” as he was entering an emergency cabinet meeting on Friday night. “It is essential that freedom of navigation is maintained and that all ships can move safely and freely in the region,” Hunt stressed.
Hunt later warned that Iran is choosing a “dangerous path” of “illegal and destabilizing” behavior.
On Thursday, the IRGC seized a foreign ship carrying a quarter million gallons of fuel from Iran. The ship was seized in Iranian waters South of Lark island, according to Fars News. Western media have been reporting several such cases of Iran taking over foreign ships in the Persian Gulf.