New York: A British-flagged tanker that Iran seized in July is now free to leave, Tehran said Monday, more than a month after British authorities released an Iranian tanker that had been detained off Gibraltar.
The news offered a rare hint of easing tensions for Iran, at a time when the country has been in an escalating cycle of confrontation with its Gulf neighbors and with the United States, including the shooting down of drones, the seizure of tankers and, most recently, an attack on major oil installations in Saudi Arabia.
Officials of the United States and Saudi Arabia, Iran’s chief rival in the region, have blamed Tehran for the Sept. 14 attack on oil facilities in the kingdom, raising the prospect of retaliatory strikes and even war.
But so far, the only apparent action they have taken against Tehran is a tightening of economic sanctions.
Iran had accused the British-flagged tanker, the Stena Impero, of violating maritime regulations in the Strait of Hormuz, but the seizure July 19 was widely seen as retaliation for the detention of the Iranian vessel.
The legal proceedings against the Stena Impero have concluded, and Iran has decided to waive alleged violations, an Iranian government spokesman, Ali Rabiyee, said at a news conference, according to Iranian and Western news agencies that were present.
The ship had not left Bandar Abbas, a port in southern Iran, as of midday, and it was not clear how quickly it would set sail.
Erik Hanell, chief executive of the tanker’s owner, the shipping company Stena Bulk, told SVT, a Swedish television station, that he hoped it would be a matter of hours.
Iran detained the 23-member crew along with the ship.
It released seven of them this month, but the others have remained with the vessel.
The direct confrontation with Britain began July 4, when British marines and Gibraltar port officials seized an Iranian tanker, Grace 1, which has since been renamed the Adrian Darya 1.
They said the ship was carrying oil to Syria, in violation of a European Union embargo.
Iran denied the allegation.
The government of Gibraltar, a semiautonomous British territory, released the ship six weeks later and said that it had assurances that the Iranian tanker would not go to Syria.