Iran said on Friday, July 19, it seized a British oil tanker in the Strait of Hormuz, a fresh escalation in the strategic waterway that has become a flashpoint in tensions between Tehran and the West.
The tanker Stena Impero was taken to an Iranian port because it was not complying with “international maritime laws and regulations,” Iran’s Revolutionary Guard declared.
Unacceptable, says Britain
Britain said Iran’s seizure of a British-flagged vessel and a Liberian-flagged vessel in the Strait of Hormuz was unacceptable and called for freedom of navigation in the Gulf.
Iran’s Ambassador to Britain warned against escalating tensions on Sunday as a U.K. official declined to rule out sanctions in response to Tehran’s seizure of a British-flagged oil tanker.
Britain has called Iran’s capture of the Stena Impero in the Strait of Hormuz on Friday a “hostile act”.
Britain needs to contain “those domestic political forces who want to escalate existing tension between Iran and the U.K. well beyond the issue of ships,” Iran’s envoy to Britain Hamid Baeidinejad said on Twitter. “This is quite dangerous and unwise at a sensitive time in the region,” he said, adding that Iran “is firm and ready for different scenarios.”
Britain’s junior Defence Minister Tobias Ellwood did not rule out the possibility of targeting Tehran with sanctions in response. “Our first and most important responsibility is to make sure that we get a solution to the issue to do with the current ship, make sure other British-flagged ships are safe to operate in these waters and then look at the wider picture,” Mr. Ellwood told Sky News.
Crew safe: Tehran
Iran said the seized tanker “risked maritime safety” in the Strait of Hormuz, through which almost a fifth of the world’s annual oil consumption passes. “We are required by regulations to investigate the issue … the duration of the investigation depends on the level of cooperation by the involved parties,” Allahmorad Afifipour, head of Iran’s Ports and Maritime Organisation in Hormozgan Province, told state TV.
He added that all 23 crew members aboard the ship, including 18 Indian nationals, are “safe and in good health in Bandar Abbas port”.
Iran is feeling the pressure of U.S. sanctions imposed on its banks and oil exports by U.S. President Donald Trump last year after he pulled the United States out of a 2015 international pact with Iran designed to curb Tehran’s nuclear program.
U.S. waivers which allowed eight countries to keep buying Iranian oil — China, Greece, India, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and Turkey — expired on May 2.
“The export of oil is one of the issues in which we have limitations and the U.S. and its allies have caused restrictions for us and we have to be sensitive,” Iran’s Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh said, state media reported on Sunday.
He said the country’s oil exports had not been impacted so far by the recent tanker incidents in the Gulf.
Iran has repeatedly threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz if it cannot export its oil because of the sanctions but cannot legally do so as part of the waterway is in Omans territorial waters.
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