Iranian authorities seized a British-flagged, Swedish-owned oil tanker while transiting the Strait of Hormuz on Friday.
The 46,575 cbm ship, Stena Impero, was captured for “breaching international maritime law”, Tehran-based Press TV reported, referring to a statement issued by the country’s Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC).
The ship allegedly turned off its tracker and ignored several warnings by the IRGC before being boarded by the armed guards. What is more, the MR2 tanker reportedly failed to respond to a distress call sent by an Iranian fishing boat.
The Iranian Ports and Maritime Organization (PMO) was cited as saying that the vessel had also been releasing oil residues from its tanks.
Stena Impero’s owner Stena Bulk and ship manager Northern Marine Management confirmed that the 2018-built tanker was approached by small naval craft and a helicopter at around 16:00 BST on July 19. The vessel suddenly deviated from its passage to Jubail and headed north towards Iran. Neither the vessel owner nor the operator were able to establish contact with Stena Impero.
“There are 23 seafarers onboard of Indian, Russian, Latvian and Filipino nationality. There have been no reported injuries and the safety and welfare of our crew remains our primary focus. We are in close contact with both the UK and Swedish government authorities to resolve this situation and we are liaising closely with our seafarers’ families,” Erik Hanell, President and Chief Executive, Stena Bulk, said.
A second oil tanker, which flies the Liberian flag but is managed by Norbulk Shipping UK, was boarded by Iranian armed personnel on Friday. The 315,000 dwt Mesdar was instructed to head north towards Iran. However, Mesdar was soon cleared to resume its voyage.
“Communication has been re-established with the vessel and Master confirmed that the armed guards have left and the vessel is free to continue the voyage. All crew are safe and well,” Norbulk said in a statement released on late Friday.
Separately, British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said he is “extremely concerned by the seizure of two naval vessels by Iranian authorities in the Strait of Hormuz”.
“The seizures are unacceptable. It is essential that freedom of navigation is maintained and that all ships can move safely and freely in the region,” Hunt pointed out.
Tensions between the UK and Iran mounted in early July when Gibraltar and Royal Marines detainedthe Iranian tanker Grace 1 on suspicion it was carrying a shipment of crude oil to Syria. The ship was arrested due to the alleged breach of EU sanctions against Syria. Although Gibraltar claimed it was enforcing the existing sanctions, Iran described the seizure as unlawful as the country is not an EU member.