Iran defends seizure of U.K. tanker

Tehran says the vessel collided with an Iranian fishing boat after ignoring distress call

July 20, 2019 10:48 pm | Updated 10:48 pm IST - Geneva/London

Britain denounced the Iranian seizure of a British-flagged oil tanker in the Gulf as a ”hostile act” on Saturday, rejecting Tehran’s explanation that it had seized the vessel because it had been involved in an accident.

Friday’s action by Iranian Revolutionary Guards in the global oil trade’s most important waterway has been viewed in the West as a major escalation in three months of confrontation that took Iran and the United States to the brink of war. It came two weeks after Britain seized an Iranian tanker off Gibraltar accused of violating sanctions on Syria, an action that prompted numerous Iranian threats to retaliate.

A spokesman for Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, Brigadier-General Ramezan Sharif, said Tehran had seized the ship in the Strait of Hormuz despite the “resistance and interference” of a British warship which had been escorting it.

Iran’s Fars news agency said the Guards had taken control of the Stena Impero on Friday after it collided with an Iranian fishing boat whose distress call it ignored.

23 crew members

The vessel, carrying no cargo, was taken to the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas. It would remain there with its 23 crew members — 18 of them Indians — while the accident was investigated, Iranian news agencies quoted the head of Ports and Maritime Organisation in southern Hormozgan province, Allahmorad Afifipour, as saying.

Iran’s semi-official Tasnim news agency posted a video of the ship anchored at sea, its name clearly visible. Iranian Foreign Minister told his British counterpart Jeremy Hunt that the ship must go through a legal process before it could be released, Iran’s INSA news agency reported.

France, Germany and the European Union joined Britain in condemning the seizure.

Since British Royal Marines abseiled from a helicopter off Gibraltar to seize the Grace 1 Iranian tanker on July 4, a number of Iranian officials had threatened to retaliate. After maintaining silence for more than a week, Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called the British action “piracy”. A senior politician and Revolutionary Guards commander, Major General Mohsen Rezai, said on Twitter that Iran was not looking for war, “but we are not going to come up short in reciprocating”.

Operator Stena Bulk said on Friday the tanker had been “in full compliance with all navigation and international regulations”, but could not be contacted. On Saturday, it said that it was preparing a request to visit the crew. The vessel had been heading to a port in Saudi Arabia and suddenly changed course after passing through the strait.

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