- Hamad I Mohammed/Reuters
- Iran seized the UK-flagged tanker Stena Impero in the Strait of Hormuz, according to Iranian media and the ship’s operator.
- There are 23 crew members aboard the Stena Impero. None of the sailors aboard the ship are British citizens, UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said in a statement.
- A second ship, the British-owned oil tanker Mesdar, was bound for Saudi Arabia Friday when it sharply veered course north toward Iran. The Mesdar reportedly was also seized by Iran and then released shortly after, according to ABC News.
- “I will shortly attend a COBR meeting to review what we know and what we can do to swiftly secure the release of the two vessels,” Hunt said in a Friday statement, referring to meetings of top officials in Cabinet Office Briefing Rooms.
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Iran seized two British tankers in the Strait of Hormuz within hours of each other on Friday in an escalation against the US and UK, and then released one of the tankers. The UK’s foreign minister said none of the crew members in Iranian custody were British citizens as the UK government convened an emergency meeting to swiftly respond.
On Friday, Iran’s PressTV reported that the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) seized control of the UK-flagged tanker Stena Impero. Unconfirmed reports then emerged that a second ship, the British-owned tanker Mesdar, had also been taken by force. A maritime tracker showed the Saudi Arabia-bound Mesdar sharply veer off course toward Iran.
The Stena Impero’s owner, the Sweden-based Stena, and its operator, Northern Marine Management, released a statement about the confirmed seizure.
“Stena Bulk and Northern Marine Management can confirm that at approximately 1600 BST on 19th July UK registered vessel Stena Impero (built 2018, 49,683 DWT) was approached by unidentified small crafts and a helicopter during transit of the Strait of Hormuz while the vessel was in international waters,” the release said. “We are presently unable to contact the vessel which is now heading north towards Iran.”
The company said there were 23 crew members aboard the Stena Impero. None of the sailors aboard either ship are British citizens, UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said in a statement.
Erik Hanell, CEO of Stena Bulk, said the 23 crew members were of Indian, Russian, Latvian and Filipino nationality.
“There have been no reported injuries and the safety and welfare of our crew remains our primary focus,” Hanell said. “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.”
The company also said its ship was in “full compliance with all navigation and international regulations,” in contrast to why Iran said it had detained the vessel.
— CNBC Now (@CNBCnow) July 19, 2019
The tanker entered the Strait of Hormuz, bound for Al Jubail, Saudi Arabia, on Friday. The tanker drove straight out of the channel toward Iran’s Qeshm island, according to Marinetraffic.com.
The second ship, the British-owned oil tanker Mesdar, was bound for Saudi Arabia on Friday when it sharply veered off course toward Iran, according to the ship-tracking website. The ship’s owners, Norbulk Shipping UK, which is based in Glasgow, Scotland, confirmed the tanker had been boarded as it was directed towards Iran and then was released.
“Communication has been re-established with the vessel, Norbulk said in a statement, and “armed guards have left and the vessel is free to continue the voyage. All crew are safe and well.”
Iran has not claimed responsibility for detaining the Mesdar, which appeared to resume its course to Saudi Arabia after coming near Iranian territorial waters.
The British tankers are not the only foreign vessels seized by Iran in the past week; on Thursday, the country released footage of an IRGC boat crew circling the United Arab Emirates-owned, Panamanian-flagged Riah tanker, which has been missing since Sunday. British Royal Marines seized an Iranian vessel, which the UK said was smuggling fuel to Syria. Iran denies that the vessel was carrying fuel to Syria and has repeatedly demanded its release.
Here’s what we know:
LR1 Stena Impero, a UK-flagged tanker, left Houston laden with ethanol in May.
It discharged in India in early June and arrived Tuesday in Fajairah.
It left today signaling for Jubail, Saudi Arabia
At about 15:17 UTC, the vessel took an abrupt turn north pic.twitter.com/MU6Luj5PD6
— ClipperData (@ClipperData) July 19, 2019
The US-Iran standoff has targeted tankers in the Strait of Hormuz, through which over $1 billion of crude oil is shipped daily. Oil prices have remained largely stable over the past month and are about $55 for a barrel, but they began rising as news spread of Iran’s seizure.
Commenting on broader tensions in the region, US President Donald Trump said on Friday that US ships are “the most deadly ships ever conceived, and we hope for [Iran’s] sake they don’t do anything foolish. If they do they’re going to pay a price like nobody’s ever paid a price.”