Iran Holds Up 2nd British-Linked Oil Tanker in Gulf on Same Day, Later Releases It

Iran held up a second oil tanker in the Strait of Hormuz on July 19—the Liberian-flagged, British-operated vessel Mesdar—within an hour after having seized the British-flagged oil tanker Stena Imperio in the same area.

The Liberian-flagged Mesdar was later allowed to continue its course after being warned over safety and environmental issues and being told to comply with environmental regulations, Iran’s semi-official Tasnim news agency reported, quoting regional military sources.

Norbulk, the manager of the Mesdar, said the vessel was boarded by armed personnel but was later allowed to continue its voyage. It added that the crew was safe and well.

“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,” British foreign minister Jeremy Hunt said, commenting on both incidents on July 19.

“We will respond in a way that is considered but robust and we are absolutely clear that if this situation is not resolved quickly there will be serious consequences,” Hunt later told reporters.

He added that Britain was “not looking at military options, we are looking at a diplomatic way to resolve the situation.”

U.S. President Donald Trump said he would talk to Britain about the issue.

“This only goes to show what I’m saying about Iran: Trouble, nothing but trouble,” he said.

The seizures come two weeks after two weeks after the British navy seized an Iranian tanker in Gibraltar on July 4. Iran’s Grace 1 tanker was believed to be breaching European Union sanctions by smuggling oil to Syria. But Iran denies that allegation and has repeatedly called for the ship’s release.

Supreme Leader Khamenei had said on July 16 that Iran would respond to Britain’s “piracy” over the Grace 1 tanker seizure.

On July 19, both the Stena Impero and Mesdar were both tracked as having suddenly headed off course within 40 minutes of each other.

The Mesdar was originally heading toward the Saudi port of Ras Tanura. Refinitiv tracking data showed that the oil tanker had gone off course and moved north toward Iran’s coast around 1600 GMT before its tracking signal went out.

Within two hours, the tracking signal was turned back on, and data showed the Mesdar was headed westward away from Iran. Iran’s semi-official Fars news agency had then tweeted that the Mesdar had left Iran’s territorial waters.

The British oil tanker Stena Imperio at unknown location on May 5, 2019. (Basil M. Karatzas, Karatzas Images via AP)

Refinitiv tracking data showed that the Swedish-owned Stena Imperio was going off course at about 1517 GMT and was heading toward Iran. The vessel had originally been heading toward Saudi port of Jubail.

Iran’s state television reported that the Islamic regime’s Revolutionary Guards said on July 19 that it had captured the Stena Impero at the request of Iranian authorities for “not following international maritime regulations.”

Tasnim reported that the Stena Impero had been causing pollution by dumping oil residue.

Allahmorad Afifipour, head of Hormozgan’s maritime authority, told Tasnim:  “We received reports that the British Stena Impero oil tanker was causing incidents and, therefore, we asked the military to direct it to Bandar Abbas port for the necessary probes.”

Stena Impero was reportedly turned over to the authorities to take the necessary legal steps.

The official IRNA news agency reported that an Iranian military source said the Stena Impero “had turned off its tracker and ignored several warnings by the Guards before being captured.”

But the vessel’s owner, Stena Bulk, and ship manager, Northern Marine Management, in their latest statement said that the Stena Imperio was “in full compliance with all navigation and international regulations.”

The two companies had confirmed the Stena Imperio’s seizure in an earlier joint statement. Their latest statement said that the vessel “is no longer under the control of the crew and remains uncontactable.”

“Soon after the vessel was approached by unidentified small naval craft and a helicopter during her transit of the Strait of Hormuz in international waters at approximate 1600 hrs BST today, the vessel suddenly deviated from her passage to Jubail and headed north towards Iran,” the two companies stated.

“There are 23 seafarers onboard of Indian, Russian, Latvian and Filipino nationality,” Erik Hanell, President and Chief Executive of Stena Bulk, said in the statement. “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.”

Drone Taken Down

Just a day before, President Donald Trump announced the U.S. Navy took down an Iranian drone near the Strait of Hormuz, amid heightened tensions between Tehran and Washington.

“The Boxer took defensive action against an Iranian drone, which had closed into a near distance, approximately 1,000 yards,” Trump said July 18 about the incident in the strait that lies between the Gulf of Oman and the Persian Gulf.

The president was referring to the USS Boxer, an amphibious assault ship.

USS Boxer (LHD-4) ship sails in the Arabian Sea off Oman July 17, 2019. Picture taken July 17, 2019. (Reuters/Ahmed Jadallah)

Tensions between Iran and the United States, along with U.S. allies like Saudi Arabia, have risen since Washington pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal in 2018. The Obama administration said the deal between Iran and global powers would help curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

Trump has been increasing pressure on Iran’s leaders, especially since he quit the Iran nuclear deal and gradually reimposed sanctions on the country in an effort to force the Islamic regime to change a plethora of activities the administration finds unacceptable.

The administration demands that Iran stops not only its nuclear technology development, but also its ballistic missile program, support for terrorists and militias in the region, and other destabilizing activities.

While Iran says its missile program is defensive only, it has repeatedly threatened to disrupt oil shipments through the Strait of Hormuz in retaliation to the United States’s sanctions.

The strait is a major chokepoint through which about a fifth of all oil consumed globally passes through. It is located between the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman.

Jack Phillips, Petr Svab, The Associated Press, and Reuters contributed to this report

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Author: Mimi Nguyen Ly

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