Posted on July 20, 2019 by Ilias Kiritsis
In what constitutes a dramatic escalation of tensions between Iran & the West, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard seized two British Oil Tankers during the evening hours of Friday the 19th of July.
The British-flagged Stena Impero was transiting through the Strait, headed for Saudi Arabia when it was seized by the IRGC. According to Iranian officials, the vessel, which is crewed by 23 seafarers, was infringing maritime regulations. The Iranian news agency, Fars, mentioned that the tanker had been tanker to the port of Bandar Abbas, while the crew remained on the vessel.
The Iranian State-run news agency, IRNA said that the vessel had been seized because it collided with an Iranian fishing boat. According to the agency, the fishing vessel proceeded to inform the Iranian Port & Maritime Organization which then went on to notify the IRGC.
This claim, however, is being contested by the owners of the Stena Impero, the Swedish-based Stena Bulk. A statement on their website reads:
“Stena Bulk and Northern Marine Management can confirm that Swedish-owned vessel Stena Impero (built 2018, 49,683 DWT) is no longer under the control of the crew and remains uncontactable.
“Soon after the vessel was approached by unidentified small naval craft and a helicopter during her transit of the Strait of Hormuz in international waters at approximate 1600 hrs BST today, the vessel suddenly deviated from her passage to Jubail and headed north towards Iran.
“The vessel was in full compliance with all navigation and international regulations. The vessel is commercially managed by Stena Bulk of Sweden.
“There are 23 seafarers onboard 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. 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.”
Reportedly, the British Navy Frigate, HMS Montrose was dispatched to assist the unfortunate vessel but was a few minutes too late.
During the same evening, the Liberian-flagged, but British managed oil tanker, Mesdar, was also believed to have been seized by the IRGC.
It had been headed towards the Saudi port of Ras Tanura, when it abruptly changed course, and began to head towards the Iranian coast, right before it turned off its AIS signal.
According to FARS, the vessel had been temporarily detained in the Strait of Hormuz. Iranian authorities boarded the vessel and issued a notice, stating that the tanker needs to comply with environmental regulations.
A full two hours later, the vessel was released, and its AIS signal was turned back on.
The tanker’s operator, Scottish-based, Norbulk Shipping UK, confirmed that the vessel had been allowed to continue its course and that all the crew members aboard are safe & in good condition.
Image Courtesy of Marine Traffic