19 July 2019 | UK NEWS
It has been confirmed that the Iranian Revolutionary Guard captured two British oil tankers in the Strait of Hormuz this evening. One is owned by Britain, the other by Liberia. The Stena Impero (pictured) had been heading for Saudi Arabia before it veered off and headed towards the island of Qeshm, which is Iranian territory. The Stena Impero remains captured. The Mesdar, which is Liberian-flagged but owned and operated by Scottish firm Norbulk, also made a sudden change of course towards the port of Ras Tanura, a Saudi island. The Mesdar has since had communication restored – Norbulk Shipping UK say the crew are safe and released the following statement:
“Communication has been re-established with the vessel and Mesdar confirmed that the armed guards have left and the vessel is free to continue the voyage. All crew are safe and well”
Iran Front Page, an English-text news site, quoted “an informed military source” saying the Stena Impero tanker was “crossing a route other than the shipping lane in the strait of Hormuz, had switched off its transponders and did not pay any attention to Iran’s warnings when it was seized by the [Revolutionary Guard] forces”.
Both tankers are believed to have crew on board but none of these are British. The UK Government’s Foreign Office is looking into the situation whilst the UK’s emergency COBRA group met – however Prime Minister Theresa May was reportedly not present, even via secure video link.
IMAGE: Marine Traffic shows the tanker Mesdar moving away from Iran after being released (9.41pm)
Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt is aware of the situation and released this statement: “I’m extremely concerned by the seizure of two vessels by Iranian authorities in the Strait of Hormuz. Their crews comprise a range of nationalities, but we understand there are no British citizens on board either ship.
“Our Ambassador in Tehran is in contact with the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs to resolve the situation and we are working closely with international partners. These seizures are unacceptable. It is essential that freedom of navigation is maintained and that all ships can move safely and freely in the region.”
The Foreign Office and UK Government are “urgently seeking further information” about the incident, ahead of the COBRA meeting, while Reuters reports the US will be discussing this issue with the UK in due course.
US President Donald Trump has said the US would be “working with the UK”.
This comes after news broke earlier on Friday that authorities in Gibraltar, a British Overseas Terrority, announced they were extending their custody of the Iranian tanker which was seized on July 4th in their waters. The Supreme Leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, called the tanker’s seizure an act of “piracy” on Tuesday. He also warned the UK to expect a response.
The backdrop to the situation is the Iran Nuclear Deal (IND), which aims to stop Iran creating nuclear weapons. Iran has fiercely defended their right to continue uranium enrichment, which is against the international agreement. Donald Trump controversially pulled the USA out of the IND on May 8th 2018, and this has caused significant tensions between Iran, the US and other signatories to the deal.