TEHRAN – Iran announced on Friday the seizure of a UK-flagged oil tanker in the Strait of Hormuz two weeks after Britain’s Royal Navy seized an Iranian tanker near Gibraltar, a British Crown Colony.
The Stena Impero was captured by units of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) at the request of the ports and maritime authority in the coastal province of Hormozgan, the IRGC said in a statement.
The tanker was seized due to “non-compliance with international maritime laws and regulations,” according to the statement.
Hours earlier, a court in Gibraltar ordered the Iranian vessel Grace 1 held for another 30 days. The ship has been under the control of British officials since the Royal Navy seized it two weeks ago.
The United Kingdom said it acted on suspicion that the Grace 1 was carrying crude oil to Syria in violation of European Union sanctions against that country’s government.
Iran’s supreme leader, the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said on Tuesday that the Royal Navy committed an “act of maritime piracy” and vowed his country would respond “at the appropriate moment.”
Last week, London said that a Royal Navy ship had to intervene to prevent the Iranians from intercepting a British-flagged tanker in the Persian Gulf, but Tehran dismissed the UK account as a fabrication.
The IRGC said on Thursday that they had seized last weekend a “foreign” vessel engaged in smuggling, providing images of a Panamanian-flagged ship owned by a company in Abu Dhabi.
News of the capture of the British tanker comes a day after President Donald Trump said that a US Navy ship shot down an Iranian drone.
Iran denied losing a drone, but Trump and other US officials insisted Friday that the Iranian unmanned aircraft was destroyed.
Tensions in the Persian Gulf have increased in the last few months amid attacks on oil tankers that Washington blamed on Iran and the June 19 shootdown of a US surveillance drone that Tehran says violated its airspace, though the Pentagon said the aircraft was flying over international waters.
Trump, despite steadily expanding the US military presence in the region, insists that he does not want war with Iran, pushing instead for a dialogue along the lines of the one he has pursued with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.
Iranian leaders, however, reject the idea of any negotiations until and unless Trump brings the US back into the multilateral 2015 pact under which Tehran accepted limits on its nuclear power program in return for relief from economic sanctions.
Washington pulled out of the accord in May 2018 and has imposed increasingly severe sanctions with the proclaimed intent of crushing the Iranian economy.