Tit-for-Tat: Iran Seizes British Tanker in Persian Gulf  

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DUBAI — Iran Friday seized a British-flagged oil tanker and briefly detained a second vessel in the Strait of Hormuz, three weeks one of its vessels was captured by British navy off the coast of Gibraltar intensifying tensions in the strategic waterway that has become a flashpoint between Tehran and the West.

The ongoing showdown has caused jitters around the globe, with each manoeuvre bringing fear that any misunderstanding or misstep by either side could lead to war.

The Iranian seizure came on the day Gibraltar’s government said that its Supreme Court had extended by 30 days the detention of the Iranian tanker loaded with over 2 million barrels of crude oil.

Details of what took place Friday remained sketchy after Iran reported that it had seized a British oil tanker in the Strait of Hormuz. The straight at the mouth of the Persian Gulf is a shipping channel for one-fifth of all global crude exports.

The Stena Impero was taken to an Iranian port because it was not complying with “international maritime laws and regulations,” Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard (IRGC) declared.

Strait of Hormuz
Iranian naval forces dominate Strait of Hormuz
The IRGC’s Public Relations Department said in a statement that the vessel had been impounded “at the request of Hormozgan Ports and Maritime Organization when passing through the Strait of Hormuz, for failing to respect international maritime rules.”

The oil tanker was transferred to the coast to undergo the required legal proceedings, the statement added.

A statement from Stena Bulk, which owns the seized tanker, said it was unable to make contact with the ship after it was approached by unidentified vessels and a helicopter in international waters.

The company said the tanker had 23 crew members of various nationalities and there were no reports of any of them were injured.

Speaking later with Iran’s official news agency, IRNA, an unnamed military official informed on the matter said the ship had breached international maritime regulations by passing through a prohibited maritime passage in the Strait, turning off its tracking signals and ignoring warnings issued by Iranian authorities.

“The tanker had turned off its tracker and ignored several warnings by the IRGC before being impounded,” IRNA quoting the source reported.

Head of the Ports and Maritime Organization of Hormozgan province told Press TV the body found that the British tanker failed to respond to a distress call by an accident-hit Iranian fishing boat as it had switched off its trackers.

The IRGC forces patrolling the area were then called on to escort the tanker to a place where the organization can investigate the issue, he added.

An informed official from Iran’s Ports and Maritime Organization said that in addition to the previously-stated infractions, the vessel had also been “releasing oil residue from its tankers in the Persian Gulf”.

The unnamed Iranian maritime official stressed that the ship’s numerous infringements counted as a violation of the concept of “innocent passage,” referring to a maritime law related to the passage of vessels through the territorial waters of another state.

Richard Weitz, a security analyst at Wikistrat, a global risk consultancy group, said Friday’s incident was a “recipocral action” by Iran.

The UK has featured prominently in the recent tensions with Iran. Britain’s Royal Marines assisted in the seizure of an Iranian oil supertanker on July 4 by Gibraltar, a British overseas territory off the southern coast of Spain.

On Friday, Gibraltar’s Supreme Court extended for 30 days the detention of the seized Iranian supertanker, Panama-flagged Grace 1, which was intercepted off the southern tip of Spain on July 4.

Following the Iranian action, the British government convened a major emergency cabinet meeting with COBRA officials present to assess the Friday’s developments.

Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt has said that a second vessel was also impounded. He described the capture of both tankers as “unacceptable”.

However Iranian military sources said the second British-owned Liberian-flagged tanker, the Mesdar, was allowed to continue its pre-scheduled course after “being briefed on the concept of innocent passage and observing environmental regulations”.

British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt initially said two ships were seized Friday in the Strait of Hormuz, the second sailing under a Liberian flag.

The owner of the Liberian-flagged tanker later said the ship was briefly boarded by armed guards before being allowed to go.

The Friday’s incidents came two days after Washington claimed that a US warship downed an Iranian drone in the strait. Iran denied that it lost an aircraft in the area.

Iran released footage captured by an IRGC drone flying over and monitoring a US Navy vessel, belying a claim by Washington that the unmanned aircraft was shot down by the American forces.

The IRGC’s Public Relations Department said Friday that the footage had been released with the aim of exposing Washington’s “lies.”

On June 20, Iran shot down an American drone in the same waterway, and Trump came close to retaliating but called off an airstrike at the last moment.

Tensions in the region have been escalating since Trump withdrew the US last year from Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers and imposed sweeping economic sanctions on Iran, including its oil exports. The sanctions have hit the Iranian economy hard.


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