September 27, 2019
Britain has responded to Iran’s release of a UK-flagged oil tanker seized in July by accusing Tehran of trying to disrupt freedom of navigation.
The Swedish owner of the Stena Impero confirmed Friday that it had left the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas and was headed for Dubai.
UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab says “the Stena Impero was unlawfully seized by Iran.”
He says the seizure was “part of a pattern of attempts to disrupt freedom of navigation.” He says London is “working with our international partners to protect shipping and uphold the international rule of law.”
Iran seized the tanker July 19 in the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow mouth of the Arabian Gulf through which 20% of all oil passes. The seizure came two weeks after British marines helped take control of an Iranian supertanker off Gibraltar on July 4.
On Wednesday, an Iranian foreign ministry spokesman, Abbas Mousavi, said the lifting of the seizure was finalized in a procedure coordinated by the foreign ministry, Iran’s judiciary and its port and maritime authorities.
After the ship had left Iran and reached international waters on Friday Erik Hanell, CEO of Stena Bulk, said it was “obviously a relief” and added that the priority now was the crew.
“When we reach Dubai we will firstly take care of the crew and then try and get the ship in operational order again,” he said.
Iran’s Revolutionary Guards seized the tanker in the Strait of Hormuz on July 19 after surrounding the vessel with attack boats and rappelling onto its deck.
It was impounded off the port of Bandar Abbas for allegedly failing to respond to distress calls and turning off its transponder after hitting a fishing boat.
Seven of its 23 crew members were released on September 4.
The ship’s seizure was widely seen as a tit-for-tat move after authorities in the British overseas territory of Gibraltar detained an Iranian tanker on suspicion it was shipping oil to Syria in breach of EU sanctions.
Tehran repeatedly denied the cases were related but a Gibraltar court last month ordered the Iranian tanker’s release despite an 11th-hour US legal bid to keep it in detention.