Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps said on Friday it had seized a British oil tanker in the Strait of Hormuz.
According to the semiofficial Iranian Fars news agency, the British oil tanker Stena Impero and its crew members were seized for violating “international maritime rules and regulations in the Persian Gulf.”
Subsequent reports indicated that a second British tanker had been seized as well. The British-operated, Liberian-flagged Mesdar, turned sharply north towards Iran’s coast after passing westward through the Strait of Hormuz into the Gulf, according to Refinitiv tracking data.
There was no immediate word from the Guards about the second tanker or from the operator of the second tanker on what had prompted the change in direction along the vital international oil shipping route.
British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt confirmed that the vessels were seized by Iranian authorities in the Strait of Hormuz, saying, “I’m extremely concerned by the seizure of two naval vessels by Iranian authorities in the Strait of Hormuz.”
“I will shortly attend a COBRA meeting to review what we know and what we can do to swiftly secure the release of the two vessels – a British-flagged vessel and a Liberian-flagged vessel. Their crews comprise a range of nationalities, but we understand there are no British citizens on board either ship,” he added.
“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,” stressed Hunt.
The British ministry of defense said it was urgently looking into what had happened to the Stena Impero, a 30,000 ton British-flagged ship, which was heading for Saudi Arabia when it abruptly left the international sea lanes through the strait of Hormuz and tracking data showed it heading north towards the Iranian island of Qeshm, where the Iran’s Revolutionary Guard has a substantial base.
The ship’s owners said the tanker had been “approached by unidentified small crafts and a helicopter during transit of the Strait of Hormuz.”
“We are presently unable to contact the vessel which is now heading north towards Iran,” the owners, Stena Bulk, and the ship’s managers, Northern Marine, said in a statement.
The British government said it was “assessing the situation following reports of an incident in the Gulf,” according to The Guardian.
The incident comes two weeks after the British naval force seized an Iranian oil tanker in Gibraltar on suspicion that it was carrying crude oil to Syria, in violation of EU sanctions.
The detention of the tanker angered Iran, which condemned the move as an “illegal interception” and summoned the British ambassador in protest.