August 20, 2019
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Iran opens inquiry into British tanker

By Marina Villén

Tehran, Jul 20 (efe-epa).- Iranian authorities on Saturday launched an inquiry into the British-flagged oil tanker Stena Impero that was seized in the Strait of Hormuz over allegations of breaching maritime regulations, although its detention has a political motive.

Stena Impero and its 23 crew members are being held in the port of Bandar Abbas, the capital of the southern province of Hormuzgan, where it was taken after it was impounded by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).

The seizure of the vessel has triggered a new diplomatic crisis between Iran and the United Kingdom, as well as a spike in tensions in the Persian Gulf region.

The cause of a collision between the tanker and a fishing boat are being investigated, director-general of the ports and maritime department of Hormuzgan, Allahmorad Afifipour said.

Stena Impero’s crew members will remain on board until the investigation is concluded, but they could be summoned by judicial authorities for “technical interviews,” Afifipour added.

The vessel was being held for turning off its GPS, entering the Strait via the southern route, which is supposed to be the way out, and not responding to warnings from the ports and maritime department, sources close to the case said, as cited by Iran's private Tasnim agency.

The crew includes 18 Indian sailors, including the captain, and five others from Russian, the Philippines and Latvia.

Stena Bulk, the owner of the ship, denied the vessel had not respected maritime regulations, adding that it had lost contact with the 30,000-ton tanker at around 3 pm GMT shortly after it received warnings that several ships and a helicopter were approaching.

Rhe tanker was intercepted by the Iranian navy while on its way to Saudi Arabia from United Arab Emirates.

Although Iranian authorities say it was being held on legal grounds, several officials said the seizure was an act of retaliation over the holding of the Iranian oil tanker, Grace 1, off Gibraltar a couple of weeks ago.

Mohsen Rezaee, the secretary of the powerful Expediency Discernment Council, said on Twitter Iran would not back down when it comes to “taking retaliatory measures,” even against the “Queen” of England.

"The Iranian government's correct measure to confront the illegitimate economic war and seizure of oil tankers is an instance of this rule and is based on international rights,"Abbas Ali Kadkhodaei, spokesman for Iran's Guardian Council said.

Iran’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Mohamad Javad Zarif said the United Kingdom needed to stop acting as an "accessory" to United States sanctions against his country.

“UK must cease being an accessory to economic terrorism of the US,” Zarif said on Twitter, alluding to Washington-imposed sanctions after the US withdrew from the 2015 nuclear deal.

“Unlike the piracy in the Strait of Gibraltar, our action in the Persian Gulf is to uphold int’l maritime rules,” Zarif added in his tweet. “It is IRAN that guarantees the security of the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz.”

On July 4, the British navy impounded Iranian tanker Grace 1 off Gibraltar over suspicions the vessel was transporting oil to Syria, which would constitute a violation of European Union sanctions.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei considered the incident an “act of maritime piracy,” warning that his country would respond at the right moment.

That moment, apparently, was Friday night in the Strait of Hormuz, a strategic maritime pass between Iran and Oman.

Iran had taken advantage of “the minimum violation” of the maritime rules by the vessel, which under different circumstances it would not otherwise have paid any attention to, according to political analyst Mohamad Marandi.

“It was a response to the seizure of the Iranian oil tanker by the United Kingdom in Gibraltar and, until its release, it is likely that the British will be retained and that others will be captured,” he told Efe.

From London, there were no signs of Grace 1 being released, while Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt warned of “serious consequences” if the situation was not resolved soon.

He accused Tehran of taking a dangerous path, but was relying on diplomatic efforts rather than a military option. EFE-EPA

mv-ar/ta/sh

Related content

Zarif tells UK to stop complicity in US sanctions

Tehran, Jul 20 (efe-epa).- Iran’s minister of foreign affairs on Saturday said the United Kingdom needed to stop acting as an "accessory" to United States sanctions against his country, a call that comes a day after the Revolutionary Guard seized a British oil tanker in the Strait of Hormuz.

“UK must cease being an accessory to economic terrorism of the US,” Javad Zarif said on Twitter, alluding to Washington-imposed sanctions after the US withdrew from the 2015 nuclear deal.

The UK-flagged Stena Impero vessel was seized on Friday in the Strait of Hormuz with 23 crew members on board.

It is being held at the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas while Iranian officials conduct an investigation.

The ports and maritime authority in the coastal province of Hormozgan said the tanker was seized after it collided with a fishing boat and failed to respond to warnings.

The Revolutionary Guard said the vessel had failed to comply with navigational rules.

“Unlike the piracy in the Strait of Gibraltar, our action in the Persian Gulf is to uphold int’l maritime rules,” Zarif added in his tweet. “It is IRAN that guarantees the security of the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz.”

The head of Iranian diplomacy was making reference to another incident two weeks ago involving its Grace 1 oil tanker, which was impounded by the UK’s navy over suspicions it was transporting crude oil to Syria, which would flout European Union sanctions.

Iran has denied the vessel was on its way to Syria and alleged the ship’s detaining was a result of pressure on the part of the US.

Several Iranian officials confirmed Saturday the seizure of the Stena Impero was an act of retaliation over the incident in Gibraltar.

Mohsen Rezaee, the secretary of the powerful Expediency Discernment Council, said on Twitter Iran would not back down when it comes to “taking retaliatory measures,” even against the “Queen” of England.

The UK’s foreign secretary, Jeremy Hunt, warned of “serious consequences” if the issue is not resolved quickly, though he ruled out considering military options. EFE-EPA

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What we know about Iran's seizure of British tanker

Tehran, Jul 20 (efe-epa).- British-flagged oil tanker Stena Impero was being held at Iran's port of Bandar Abas on Saturday with 23 crew members on board following its seizure by Iran's armed forces in the Strait of Hormuz.

The incident, which took place as the vessel headed to Saudi Arabia from United Arab Emirates, has triggered a new diplomatic crisis between Iran and the United Kingdom, as well as a spike in tensions in the Persian Gulf region.

These are five keys to understanding the situation:

1- Seizure

Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) announced on Friday it had seized a British oil tanker that allegedly breached maritime regulations as it navigated the Strait of Hormuz.

Iranian navy’s vessels intercepted the Stena Impero upon a request of the ports and maritime authority in the coastal province of Hormozgan, the IRGC said in a statement.

Stena Bulk said it had lost contact with the 30,000-ton tanker at around 3 pm GMT shortly after it received warnings that several ships and a helicopter were approaching.

2- Iran’s official justification

The tanker collided with a fishing boat and an investigation has been opened into the incident, according to the director-general of the ports and maritime department of Hormuzgan, Allahmorad Afifipour.

Stena Impero was being held for turning off its GPS, entering the Strait via the southern route, which is supposed to be the way out, and not responding to warnings from the ports and maritime department, sources close to the case said, as cited by Iran's private Tasnim agency.

3- The back story

On July 4, the British navy held Iranian tanker Grace 1 off Gibraltar over suspicions the vessel was transporting oil to Syria, which would violate European Union sanctions.

Gibraltar’s Supreme Court extended Grace 1's detention period for another 30 days on Friday, despite Iran denying the boat had been bound for Syria.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei considered the incident an “act of maritime piracy,” warning that his country would respond at the right moment.

4- The UK reaction

Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt denounced the “unacceptable” seizure of the Stena Impero and said he would go down the diplomatic route in order to resolve the situation.

He warned of “serious consequences” if the situation was not resolved soon, although he made it clear that a military option was not on the table.

The British government urged its vessels to stay away from the Strait for the time being.

5- The tanker and its crew

The Stena Impero has been taken to the port of Bandar Abas and its 23-man crew remains on board for security reasons.

The crew includes 18 Indian sailors, including the captain, and five others from Russian, the Philippines and Latvia.

The vessel will remain where it is, according to the ports and maritime department, while authorities investigate the incident. EFE-EPA

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Iran says seized British tanker hit fishing vessel, crew remain on board

Tehran, July 20 (efe-epa).- The British-flagged tanker Stena Impero was seized after colliding with a fishing vessel and is now being held in the port of Bandar Abbas with 23 crew members on board, an Iranian maritime official said Saturday.

The 30,000-ton Stena Impero set off Friday from the United Arab Emirates and was heading through the Strait of Hormuz towards Saudi Arabia's Jubail port when it was seized by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, the latest in a string of incidents escalating tensions in the region.

"The British vessel hit a fishing trawler, which needs to be investigated," said Director-General of the Ports and Maritime Department of Hormuzgan province, Allahmorad Afifipour, according to the state Islamic Republic News Agency.

He said the captain of the fishing vessel tried to make contact with the Stena Impero but there was no signal, so the department was informed.

Military forces then took the tanker to Bandar Abbas where it remains docked with the 23 crew still on board to “observe safety regulations,” according to IRNA.

However, the tanker’s Swedish owners, Stena Bulk, said in a statement Friday that Stena Impero had been “approached by unidentified small naval craft and a helicopter” before it lost contact with the vessel, which veered off course and headed towards Iran.

It said the ship had been in “full compliance with all navigation and international regulations” and had 23 crew members of Indian, Russian, Latvian and Filipino nationalities on board.

Another tanker, the Liberian-flagged and British-operated Mesdar, was also seized on Friday in the Strait of Hormuz.

It was "stopped" by Iran naval patrols, but has been allowed to continue its journey after being warned to respect environmental regulations, Iranian news agency Fars said.

The incidents came on the same day that Gibraltar's Supreme Court extended the detention period of Iranian oil tanker Grace 1 for 30 days.

Grace 1 was intercepted on July 4 near the coast of Gibraltar on suspicions that it was transporting crude oil to Syria, a country subject to European Union sanctions. Iranian authorities denied the accusation.

Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei on Tuesday called the incident an act of maritime piracy and warned that Iran would respond to the UK at the appropriate time.

British Foreign Minister Jeremy Hunt said Saturday on Twitter that the action in the Gulf “shows worrying signs Iran may be choosing a dangerous path of illegal and destabilising behaviour after Gibraltar’s LEGAL detention of oil bound for Syria.”

“As I said yesterday, our reaction will be considered but robust. We have been trying to find a way to resolve Grace1 issue but WILL ensure the safety of our shipping,” he added.

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