India negotiates release of 30 Indians from two ships in Iranian custody

Expecting response to our note verbale that we sent on Sunday, say sources

Updated - July 22, 2019 08:02 am IST

Published - July 21, 2019 10:55 pm IST - New Delhi

India is in discussion with Iran to free at least 30 of its nationals who were on board two foreign-flagged ships detained by Iranian authorities.

Indian embassy in Tehran on Sunday sent an official note urging Iran to release the nationals who were seized from a British-owned oil tanker on Saturday. Diplomats also confirmed that Iran held several Indians from a ship captured previously.

“We are currently expecting response to our note verbale that we sent on Sunday. They have our citizens from both Stena Impero which was detained on Saturday and also MT Riah which was detained last week,” said a source familiar with the negotiations.

The Stena Impero was detained by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard over the weekend in a tit-for-tat after British authorities detained an Iranian vessel Grace 1 near Gibraltar earlier. Initially, the whereabouts of MT Riah were not known but Indian diplomats were informed about the presence of at least 12 citizens on board the vessel.

It was learned that Iran had hinted that it was considering release of nine of the Indian crew members of MT Riah . India on Saturday said it was ascertaining details of the arrests on board the Stena Impero. “Our embassy is in touch with the Government of Iran to secure the early release and repatriation of Indian nationals,” said Raveesh Kumar, official spokesperson of the Ministry of External Affairs.

The Hindu reported earlier that the Iranian authorities had assured that the Indian nationals in custody would be treated well. “Based on the goodwill which exists between Iran and India, the two countries protect the nationals of the other side, and this is not a matter of concern,” an Iranian official based here had said.

The tension in the Gulf region has been a security factor that Indian authorities have been watching carefully. On June 13-14, the Director General of Shipping urged Indian-flagged vessels to take appropriate precautions while transiting through the Strait of Hormuz and the Gulf of Oman. However, Indian nationals constitute a bulk of the manpower in the international merchant shipping who are expected to face the brunt of the U.S.-Iran tension at the high seas.

Kerala CM’s appeal to Centre

Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan on Sunday urged the Centre to take all possible efforts to secure the release of the Indian nationals including four Keralites on board the British-flagged oil tanker.

In a letter to External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar, he asked the Ministry to share the details of the persons aboard the ship so that their families could be helped.

“I request that all possible efforts to ensure the safety of the crew be made and the relevant details of persons may be shared with the State government so that their family members can be contacted and we can be of help in their hour of crisis,” Mr. Vijayan said in the letter, the copy of which was released to the media.

Congress MP Hibi Eden, representing the Ernakulam constituency, also sought urgent intervention of the Central government.

Mr. Eden visited the family of Dijo Pappachan, a crew member on board the seized tanker.

The family of Mr. Pappachan hailing from Kochi said the tanker owners had informed them that he was onboard.

Asked about the reports that two more people from Ernakulam district were among the crew, the MP said there was no official information so far.

Minister of State for External Affairs V. Muraleedharan had said on Saturday diplomatic efforts were on to secure the release of the Indian nationals.

“We are waiting for response from Iranian authorities,” Mr. Muraleedharan had told reporters in Kuthiran in Thrissur district on Saturday.

(With PTI inputs from Thiruvananthapuram/Kochi)

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