Tehran/London, Iran’s Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) has seized a British-flagged oil tanker in the Strait of Hormuz, prompting the UK to warn Tehran of “serious consequences” if it did not release the ship, making it the latest confrontation in the increasingly tense standoff in the important shipping route.
Iranian media reported on Saturday the ship — the Stena Impero — was captured by the country’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) on Friday following an accident with a fishing boat. The tanker has 23 crew members of Indian, Russian, Latvian and Filipino nationalities aboard.
Earlier, the IRGC said the ship was being held for “violating international regulations.”
A second British-owned Liberian-flagged tanker — the MV Mesdar — was also boarded by armed guards but was released. Press TV reported citing unnamed Iranian military sources as saying that this vessel “was not seized, just shortly stopped and briefed by Iranian authorities”.
Stena Bulk, which owns the seized Stena Impero vessel, said it was in “full compliance with all navigation and international regulations” and was approached while it was in international waters.
Following the development, Britain’s Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt warned Tehran of “serious consequences” if the situation is not resolved quickly. He said the seizures were “completely unacceptable” and “freedom of navigation must be maintained”.
The UK government’s emergency committee, Cobra, met in Whitehall twice on Friday in response to the crisis.
A spokeswoman told the BBC that the government was “deeply concerned about Iran’s unacceptable actions”, saying they “represent a clear challenge to international freedom of navigation”.
“We have advised UK shipping to stay out of the area for an interim period,” the spokeswoman added.
Hunt, who attended the Cobra meeting, said: “We are absolutely clear that if this situation is not resolved quickly there will be serious consequences. We are not looking at military options. We are looking at a diplomatic way to resolve this situation but we are very clear that it must be resolved.”
Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn said: “The seizure of these vessels is unacceptable, and the tanker that remains under Iranian control must be released. Escalation risks a slide into an even deeper conflict.”
US President Donald Trump responded to the developments by saying he would talk to the UK. The US Central Command — which is responsible for Washington’s security interests across the Middle East — said it was developing a multinational maritime effort in response to the situation.
Iran’s move in the Strait comes just hours after authorities in Gibraltar agreed to extend the detention of an Iranian oil tanker in its custody for 30 days.
That ship, the Grace 1, was seized by British authorities on July 4, accused of attempting to transport oil to Syria in violation of European Union sanctions.
An increase in tensions in the Strait of Hormuz could have dire economic and security consequences as around 24 per cent of global oil production passes through the narrow passage and it’s the only way to ship oil out of the Persian Gulf.