Iran on Thursday ordered the release of an Indian tanker MT Desh Shanti detained by it for the past 24 days at its Bandar Abbas port after being seized in the Persian Gulf while carrying crude from Basrah in Iraq.
The development follows hectic parleys between the two countries with India strongly objecting to the detention, saying it was a “colourable” exercise in transgression of the UN convention on the laws of the sea and warning of serious ramifications.
“Iran has ordered release of the Indian oil tanker,” a source in the Ministry of External Affairs said.
Meanwhile, the Shipping Ministry also indicated the possibility of positive developments and was awaiting confirmation on the actual release of the vessel.
“We are waiting to see such an order,” a Shipping Corporation of India (SCI) official said.
The tanker, belonging to India’s largest ocean liner SCI, was seized by Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) on August 12 citing environmental and pollution concerns.
India, however, strongly objected to pollution charges saying the vessel, on a “innocent passage” from Basrah to Visakhapatnam, was not voluntarily destined at any Iranian ports, and was “forcibly diverted” to Iranian waters and then subject to PSC inspection.
In a strong-worded letter to Iran, India had made it clear that Port State Control (PSC) is a legitimate mechanism to be utilised prudently and “any arbitrary enforcement of this well-established regime can have serious ramifications on the smooth conduct of international maritime transport and may send alarming messages to the shipping community...”
The letter to Iranian Director General, Safety and Marine Protection, said, “We, the Indian administration, strongly object to this colourable exercise of power and remind your administration that your act in this case was in transgression of the UNCLOS’82 and several other international conventions.”
Last week, Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh had summoned Iranian Ambassador Gholamreza Ansari in New Delhi to lodge a strong protest over the detention of the oil tanker and sought an “unconditional” release of the vessel.
External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid had also asserted that it was important that New Delhi does not concede any point and the ship should be released “unconditionally.”
The development comes at a time when India, the world’s fourth-largest oil importer, has significantly reduced its import from Iran following severe financial sanctions from the Western countries against the Islamic republic.
Iranians have been maintaining that the detention was “purely a technical and non-political issue.”