Steno Impero 20190719
A file picture of Stena Impero Image Credit: Social Media

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London summons Iran's charge d'affaires over tanker seizure

London: The Foreign Office in London summoned Iran's charge d'affaires on Saturday, the ministry said, following the seizure of a British-flagged tanker in the Gulf.

The diplomat was called in as European powers urged Iran to release the Stena Impero it seized in the Strait of Hormuz in what Britain earlier called a "dangerous" move.

Earlier, British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said the tanker seizure shows Iran is choosing "a dangerous path of illegal and destabilising behaviour."

Hunt has warned Iran of consequences for seizing two vessels in the Strait of Hormuz, one of which has now been released. London's response will be "robust" but not military, he said. — AFP

18 Indians, 5 others from Russia, Philippines, Latvia on board  

Tehran: Eighteen Indians, including the ship's captain, are among 23 crew members of a British-flagged oil tanker seized by Iran in the Strait of Hormuz amid heightened tensions in the Gulf.

India said on Saturday it is in touch with Tehran for the release of the Indian sailors.

Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said that further details of the incident are being ascertained. "Our Mission is in touch with the Government of Iran to secure the early release and repatriation of Indian nationals."

News agency IRNA quoted Allahmorad Afifipour, Director General of Ports and Maritime Affairs of Hormuzgan province, as saying: "There are 18 Indian and five crew members from Russia, Philippines, Latvia and other countries on board of Stena Impero. The captain is Indian, but the tanker is UK-flagged."

London government warns British ships to avoid Hormuz Strait.

The British-flagged tanker Stena Impero was in an accident with a fishing boat before being detained on Friday, Iran's Fars news agency reported on Saturday, quoting an official.

Iran says all 23 crew seized on the tanker are now at Bandar Abbas port and will remain on the vessel until the end of an investigation, according to Fars.

"It got involved in an accident with an Iranian fishing boat... When the boat sent a distress call, the British-flagged ship ignored it," said the head of Ports and Maritime Organisation in southern Hormozgan province, Allahmorad Afifipour.

"The tanker is now at Iran's Bandar Abbas port and all of its 23 crew members will remain on the ship until the probe is over." Britain said earlier it was urgently seeking information about the Stena Impero, which had been heading to a port in Saudi Arabia and suddenly changed course after passing through the strait at the mouth of the Gulf.

British tanker 'captured'

Iran's Revolutionary Guards said they have captured British oil tanker Stena Impero in the Strait of Hormuz, Iranian state television reported on Friday. The tanker has 23 crew onboard.

Ship's owner Stena Bulk and the managers Northern Marine said they are unable to contact vessel which is now heading north towards Iran.

Britain however said Iran had seized two ships in the Gulf, with Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt warning of "serious consequences" if the issue was not resolved quickly.

The British owner of one of the tankers, the Liberian-flagged Mesdar, said the ship had been temporarily boarded by armed personnel, but was now free to leave.

The latest incident came as President Donald Trump insisted Friday that the US military had downed an Iranian drone that was threatening an American naval vessel in the Strait of Hormuz, despite denials from Tehran.

The Stena Impero tanker "was confiscated... for failing to respect international maritime rules," the Guards' official website Sepahnews said.

The tanker was taken to a coastal area and turned over to the authorities to take the necessary legal steps, state TV reported.

Tanker tracking service Marine Traffic showed that the Swedish-owned Stena Impero last signalled its location near the Island of Larak in the highly sensitive waterway at 9pm local time (1630 GMT).

The ship was transiting the Strait of Hormuz and in "international waters" when it was "attacked by unidentified small crafts and a helicopter," the owner said.

"We are presently unable to contact the vessel which is now tracking as heading north towards Iran," a statement said.

Hunt said he was "extremely concerned" by the seizure of two vessels in the Strait - through which nearly a third of the world's oil is transported.

"We are absolutely clear that if this situation is not resolved quickly there will be serious consequences," he told Sky News ahead of an emergency ministerial COBRA meeting.

Emergency meeting

Britain's Government Emergency Committee is meeting now to discuss tanker incident in the Gulf.

Northern Marine said Stena Impero was also approached by a helicopter during transit of the strait of Hormuz while the vessel was in international waters.

Stena Impero is a Chemical/Oil Products Tanker built in 2018 and currently sailing under the flag of United Kingdom. Current destination of the tanker is Jubail, Saudi Arabia.

Iran's Fars News Agency reported that senior military officials rejected reports that the Liberian-flagged tanker has been seized, stressing that the Stena Impero was the only foreign ship under Iranian custody.

The incident came hours after Gibraltar's Supreme Court said it would extend by 30 days the detention of an Iranian tanker seized two weeks ago on allegations that it was heading to Syria in violation of sanctions.

Call for more security in the Gulf

Further protection must be provided for merchant vessels after a British flagged tanker was seized by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards in the Strait of Hormuz, the head of the UK Chamber of Shipping said on Friday.

"We condemn unreservedly the capture of Stena Impero as she transited the Strait of Hormuz earlier today," the Chamber's chief executive, Bob Sanguinetti, said in a statement.

"This incident represents an escalation. Whilst we call for measured response, it is also clear that further protection for merchant vessels must be forthcoming to ensure enhanced security to guarantee free flow of trade in the region."

Another tanker in Gulf turned sharply towards Iran

Meanwhile, the second oil tanker, the British-operated, Liberian-flagged Mesdar, turned sharply north towards Iran's coast on Friday afternoon after passing westward through the Strait of Hormuz into the Gulf, according to Refinitiv tracking data.

The turn took place at about 1600 GMT, the data showed, about 40 minutes after a similar course shift by the Stena Impero tanker that Iran's Revolutionary Guards said they had captured.

Later, the British owner of this tanker said the ship had been temporarily boarded by armed personnel but was now free to leave.

"Communication has been re-established with the vessel and (the capitain) confirmed that the armed guards have left and the vessel is free to continue the voyage. All crew are safe and well," Norbulk Shipping UK said in a statement about the ship, the Mesdar.

US says downed drone

Tensions in the Gulf have soared in recent weeks, with Trump calling off air strikes against Iran at the last minute in June after Tehran downed an American drone, and blaming Iran for a series of tanker attacks - charges the Islamic Republic denies.

Hours before the latest incident, Iran and the US were caught in a new war of words.

Trump on Friday reiterated a claim that Washington brought down an Iranian drone that was threatening an American vessel, the USS Boxer in the Strait of Hormuz.

Iran categorically denied the allegation and deputy foreign minister Abbas Araghchi tweeted that American forces may have shot down a US drone by mistake.

Trump's National Security Advisor John Bolton said there was "no question that this was an Iranian drone".

The Revolutionary Guards released a video Friday which they said belies the US claims.

Nuclear standoff 

The latest escalation comes more than a year after Washington unliterally withdrew from the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement and began ratcheting up sanctions against Tehran.

On Friday Trump spoke with French leader Emmanuel Macron, the White House said, with the leaders discussing "ongoing efforts to ensure Iran does not obtain a nuclear weapon."

Earlier this month, Iran purposely overshot the deal's caps on uranium enrichment, aiming to pressure the remaining parties to make good on their promises to help prop up its economy.

Iran has repeatedly threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz if it is attacked.

The seven-minute-long footage, apparently shot from high altitude, shows a convoy of ships which the Guards said they were tracking as they passed through the Strait of Hormuz.

The vessels in the footage could not be immediately identified, although one looks similar to the USS Boxer.

Earlier a US official said Washington has "very clear evidence" that it downed the drone but gave no further details.

"If you fly too close to our ships, you're going to get shot down," the official said.

As tensions soar, Tehran's arch rival Saudi Arabia announced Friday that it would once again host US troops on its soil to boost regional security, its defence ministry said.

Germany, France call on Iran to release UK tanker
Germany and France on Saturday called on Iran to immediately release a British oil tanker it seized a day earlier in the Strait of Hormuz, in statements issued by their foreign ministries.
The capture of the Swedish-owned, British-flagged Stena Impero on Friday by Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps was a "dangerous further aggravation of an already tense situation," the German statement said.