ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – Iran’s military announced on Friday that its naval forces had seized an English ship, apparently following through on continued threats in recent weeks to retaliate after British Royal Marines impounded an Iranian ship in early July that was purportedly in violation of EU sanctions.
“This afternoon, an English oil tanker with the name of Stena Impero… was captured by” the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Navy in the Strait of Hormuz, the IRGC said in a statement, according to the semi-official Fars news agency.
In the media report, the IRGC said it took control of the ship “because of a failure to comply with international maritime laws and regulations.”
British forces claim the Iranian tanker it is holding was on its way to deliver oil to Syria in contravention of EU sanctions against such assistance. Tehran has repeatedly threatened the UK with a similar action for what it described as British “piracy,” should their ship not be released.
The UK, meanwhile, has stated it first needs credible guarantees that the tanker would not continue on to Syria before making any agreement to release it.
Last week, three Iranian ships attempted to block the passage of a British oil tanker in the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow waterway that separates the Persian Gulf from the Gulf of Oman and through which about 20 percent of the world’s crude passes.
Friday's incident occurred at 7:30 p.m. local time with 23 crewmembers aboard the ship, according to a joint statement released late in the day by its operator, Northern Marine Management, and its owner, Stena Bulk. The vessel, it read, was “approached by unidentified small crafts and a helicopter during transit of the Strait of Hormuz while the vessel was in international waters.”
It added that all communications with Stena Impero had been lost, but that there “have been no reported injuries.”
The ship appears to have veered off its route about ten kilometers off the coast of Larak Island, close to where an earlier incident occurred. The semi-official Tasnim news agency quoted a naval official as saying that they had requested the IRGC to move the tanker to the Bandar Abbas harbor.
Later in the day, the British Foreign Office, Ministry of Defence (MoD), and other government agencies were holding a meeting to “determine the UK’s response,” according to The Telegraph.
“We are urgently seeking further information and assessing the situation following reports of an incident in the Gulf,” the paper quoted an MoD spokesman as saying.
These events come as tensions in Gulf waters have escalated in the past few weeks between Washington and Tehran, putting both sides into something of a military standoff after Iran shot down an American drone it claimed had entered its air space.
On Thursday, US President Donald Trump said that the US navy had destroyed an Iranian drone after it got too close to one of its warships in the Strait of Hormuz. Tehran later dismissed Trump’s statement and claimed all its drones were safe and accounted for.
Early on Friday, an unmanned drone of unknown origin bombed the base of an Iran-backed paramilitary group early Friday in Iraq’s Salahuddin province, reportedly injuring a number of fighters and causing damage to an ammunition depot.
The attack has resulted in claims in the media that the US was responsible, but the US-led anti-ISIS coalition has denied this.
In a tweet, a coalition spokesperson said, "We are aware of the reports of an attack against the Iranians and a Popular Mobilization Force unit in Salah ad Din. Coalition Forces were not involved, and we have no further information at this time."
Editing by John J. Catherine