UK’s ministry of defense said it was “urgently” seeking answers over Iran's
seizure of the British oil tankers Stena Impero and Mesdar. Meanwhile, Foreign
Minister Jeremy Hunt will chair a meeting of the COBRA emergency committee to
discuss the situation.
In an escalation amid the tensions in the Gulf area, the Revolutionary Guard said it took control of the British oil tankers Stena Impero and Mesdar, over what it claimed were violations of international regulations.
There was general surprise in Westminster at the seizure, especially after Hunt recently offered to release an Iranian tanker seized off Gibraltar on the provision that it not travel to Syria, defense sources told The Independent.
The tanker’s owners, Stena Bulk, and managers Northern Marine Management, confirmed the seizure.
They said that at about 4 pm UK time on Friday, the Stena Impero “was approached by unidentified small crafts and a helicopter during transit of the Strait of Hormuz while the vessel was in international waters.”
“We are presently unable to contact the vessel which is now heading north towards Iran,” they said, adding, “There are 23 seafarers aboard. There have been no reported injuries and their safety is of primary concern to both owners and managers. The priority of both vessel owner Stena Bulk and ship manager Northern Marine Management is the safety and welfare of the crew.”
“We are in close contact with UK government authorities,” the statement added.
Tracking data showed the Stena Impero was flying a British flag and heading for the Saudi port of Jubail on the Gulf.
Later, a second tanker was seen on a mapping website to slow and turn sharply toward Iran. The Liberian-flagged Mesdar is owned by the UK’s Norbulk Shipping.
A UK government spokesperson said, “We are urgently seeking further information and assessing the situation following reports of an incident in the Gulf.”
The Revolutionary Guard-affiliated Tasnim news agency quoted Allahmorad Afifipur, the director general of the Ports and Maritime Organization, as saying, “We received some reports on the British oil tanker, Stena Impero, causing problems, and therefore, we asked the military forces to guide this tanker towards Bandar Abbas harbor to have the required investigations carried out.”
On Friday night, the head of the UK’s Chamber of Shipping called for greater protection for merchant vessels. “This incident represents an escalation,” said Bob Sanguinetti.
It comes after weeks of rising tensions as Iran sought to push back against US sanctions and restart its uranium enrichment program after Donald Trump pulled out of the so-called Iran nuclear deal.
European powers want to maintain the nuclear deal but have not been able to address Iranian demands, particularly concerning the sale of oil, without violating the sanctions.
Relations with the UK in particular have soured since Royal Marines seized an Iranian tanker off Gibraltar amid suspicions it was being used to breach international sanctions against Syria. Iran’s supreme leader vowed to retaliate.
Tehran is currently locked in a battle of words with Donald Trump‘s White House as to whether a US Navy ship did or did not bring down an Iranian drone this week – alongside the diplomatic struggle between the countries.
And the frigate HMS Montrose was forced to drive off Revolutionary Guard gunboats last week after they tried to harass the BP oil tanker.
The Type-23 frigate is to be joined shortly by HMS Duncan, a destroyer, carrying a detachment of Royal Marines. The Duncan was set to replace the Montrose, but defense sources told The Independent it was a distinct possibility that both warships may now stay in the region.