Photo Credit: Vesselfinder.com
The Stena Impero oil tanker

The UK government said it would announce on Sunday the diplomatic and economic measures under consideration against Iran in the wake of the seizure of the British-flagged oil tanker Stena Impero in the Strait of Hormuz earlier Friday, but stopped short of calling for military action.

British Foreign Secretary James Hunt warned of “serious consequences” earlier on Sunday and is expected to announce a series of diplomatic and economic measures aimed at Iran, possibly including pushing for the renewal of EU and UN sanctions as well as the freezing of Iranian assets in London, The Telegraph reported.

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Britain lodged a formal complaint late Saturday with the United Nations Security Council over the incident. “The ship was exercising the lawful right of transit passage in an international strait as provided for under international law,” The British Permanent Mission to the UN wrote to the Security Council. “International law requires that the right of transit passage shall not be impeded, and therefore the Iranian action constitutes illegal interference.”

Following a telephone conversation with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, according to the BBC, Hunt said that Iran viewed the seizure of the Stena Impero as a “tit-for-tat” response to the detention of the Iranian tanker Grace 1 by Gibraltar earlier this month. “Nothing could be further from the truth,” Hunt said.

The Grace 1 tanker was detained by Gibraltar, a British territory, on July 4 on suspicion of carrying a shipment of oil to Syria in violation of E.U. sanctions.

Zarif wrote on Twitter on Saturday that, “Unlike the piracy in the Strait of Gibraltar, our action in the Persian Gulf is to uphold international maritime rules,” warning that the UK “must cease being an accessory to the “#EconomicTerrorism of the US.”

Tehran has claimed the Stena Impero was “violating international maritime rules,” with Iran’s state-run IRNA news agency accusing the vessel of hitting a fishing boat after failing to respond to its warning calls.

Hunt, however, said it was seized in Omani waters in “clear contravention of international law” and then forced to sail into Iran, according to the BBC.

Footage of the capture released Saturday to the Iranian Fars news agency showed masked Iranian soldiers rappelling from a helicopter onto the tanker, taking control of the vessel and forcing it into Iranian waters while flanked by a fleet of high-speed boats.

The Royal Naval frigate HMS Montrose raced to intervene, according to the BBC, as it did successfully a week ago when Iranian vessels attempted to intercept another British tanker, but the vessel was already in Iranian waters by the time Montrose arrived on the scene.

According to the Stena Impero’s Swedish owners, Stena Bulk, the 23 Indian, Russian, Latvian and Filipino crew members are reportedly in good health. The company said it had been in full compliance with regulations at the time of the seizure. However, the crew has now been reportedly taken off the vessel for “questioning” by Iranian authorities.

A second tanker, British-owned but Liberian-flagged, the MV Mesdar, was reportedly boarded by armed guards the same day as the Stena Impero was captured, but was later released.

The EU foreign affairs office expressed “deep concern” over the seizure, and called for “restraint to avoid further tensions.” UK government ministers held emergency meetings over the weekend and a senior Iranian diplomat was summoned to London’s Foreign Office.

The United States Central Command said it was organizing a multinational maritime response to the development and deploying additional troops to Saudi Arabia to protect U.S. interests from “emergent credible threats.”

Hana Levi Julian contributed content to this report.

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