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Iran seizes British tanker with 18 Indian on-board, tensions rise in Gulf

Afifipour said the vessel had been taken under the guidance of Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards to Bander Abbas port, situated on Iran's southern coast and facing the strait

twitter-logo Reuters        Last Updated: July 20, 2019  | 16:12 IST
Iran seizes British tanker with 18 Indian on-board, tensions rise in Gulf
Undated handout picture of Stena Impero, the British-flagged vessel operated by Stena Bulk that was seized by Iran. Photo credit: Reuters

Iran has taken a British-flagged oil tanker seized in the Strait of Hormuz to a nearby port, where the vessel and its crew will remain while an accident it was involved in is investigated, Iran's Fars news agency said on Saturday.

The Stena Impero was in collision with an Iranian fishing boat whose distress call it ignored, the agency quoted the head of Ports and Maritime Organisation in southern Hormozgan province, Allahmorad Afifipour, as saying.

With the seizure inflaming already fraught relations between Iran and the West, Britain's foreign minister Jeremy Hunt said he was worried that Tehran's action had put it on a "dangerous path".

Afifipour said the vessel had been taken under the guidance of Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards to Bander Abbas port, situated on Iran's southern coast and facing the strait.

"All its 23 crew members will remain on the ship until the probe is over," he was quoted as saying. They comprised 18 Indians and five others of other nationalities, he said.

Operator Stena Bulk said on Friday the tanker had been "in full compliance with all navigation and international regulations", but was no longer under the crew's control and could not be contacted. It had no further comment early on Saturday.

Hunt said on Saturday that Britain would ensure the safety of its shipping, and that there were signs that Iran "may be choosing a dangerous path of illegal and destabilising behaviour after Gibraltar's legal detention of oil bound for Syria."

The British navy seized Iran's Grace 1 tanker in Gibraltar on July 4 on suspicion of smuggling oil to Syria in breach of EU sanctions.

Hunt reiterated that the response to the Stena Impero's seizure would be "considered but robust". He had said on Friday that Britain was however "not looking at military options. We are looking at a diplomatic way to resolve the situation."

BLUNDERING TOWARDS WAR?

The vessel had been heading to a port in Saudi Arabia and suddenly changed course after passing through the strait at the mouth of the Gulf, through which a fifth of the world's oil supplies pass.

U.S. President Donald Trump said he would talk to Britain about Friday's seizure, which drove oil prices up above $62 a barrel.

The United States has blamed Iran for a series of attacks since mid-May on shipping around the Strait of Hormuz. Tehran rejects the allegations.

Washington also said it had this week downed an Iranian drone near where the Stena Impero was seized.

Iran on Friday denied that assertion, and its Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, quoted in Venezuela on Saturday by news agency IRNA, accused Washington of creating worlwide "instability, pressure on people and increased extremism and terrorism."

The United States is sending military personnel and resources to Saudi Arabia for the first time since the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, and international concerns is growing that Washington and Tehran could blunder into a war in the strategic waterway.

Bilateral relations worsened last year when Trump abandoned a 2015 nuclear deal between world powers and Iran.

Under the pact, Iran agreed to restrict nuclear work, long seen by the West as a cover for developing atomic bombs, in return for lifting sanctions. But sanctions have been imposed again, badly hurting Iran's economy.

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