TEHRAN – The British-flagged tanker Stena Impero was seized after colliding with a fishing vessel and is now being held in the port of Bandar Abbas with 23 crew members on board, an Iranian maritime official said Saturday.
The 30,000-ton Stena Impero set off Friday from the United Arab Emirates and was heading through the Strait of Hormuz towards Saudi Arabia’s Jubail port when it was seized by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, the latest in a string of incidents escalating tensions in the region.
“The British vessel hit a fishing trawler, which needs to be investigated,” said Director-General of the Ports and Maritime Department of Hormuzgan province, Allahmorad Afifipour, according to the state Islamic Republic News Agency.
He said the captain of the fishing vessel tried to make contact with the Stena Impero but there was no signal, so the department was informed.
Military forces then took the tanker to Bandar Abbas where it remains docked with the 23 crew still on board to “observe safety regulations,” according to IRNA.
However, the tanker’s Swedish owners, Stena Bulk, said in a statement Friday that Stena Impero had been “approached by unidentified small naval craft and a helicopter” before it lost contact with the vessel, which veered off course and headed towards Iran.
It said the ship had been in “full compliance with all navigation and international regulations” and had 23 crew members of Indian, Russian, Latvian and Filipino nationalities on board.
Another tanker, the Liberian-flagged and British-operated Mesdar, was also seized on Friday in the Strait of Hormuz.
It was “stopped” by Iran naval patrols, but has been allowed to continue its journey after being warned to respect environmental regulations, Iranian news agency Fars said.
The incidents came on the same day that Gibraltar’s Supreme Court extended the detention period of Iranian oil tanker Grace 1 for 30 days.
Grace 1 was intercepted on July 4 near the coast of Gibraltar on suspicions that it was transporting crude oil to Syria, a country subject to European Union sanctions. Iranian authorities denied the accusation.
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei on Tuesday called the incident an act of maritime piracy and warned that Iran would respond to the UK at the appropriate time.
British Foreign Minister Jeremy Hunt said on Saturday on Twitter that the action in the Gulf “shows worrying signs Iran may be choosing a dangerous path of illegal and destabilising behaviour after Gibraltar’s LEGAL detention of oil bound for Syria.”
“As I said yesterday, our reaction will be considered but robust. We have been trying to find a way to resolve Grace1 issue but WILL ensure the safety of our shipping,” he added.