Rezaie reacts to seizure of British oil tanker in PG

Brenda Watkins
July 20, 2019

But Mr Hunt said he had spoken to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo about the situation and President Donald Trump said America would be "working with the UK".

Mr Hunt, who attended a meeting of the British government's emergency committee, Cobra, last night, warned there would be "serious consequences" if the situation was not resolved quickly.

Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) seized British-flagged and Swedish-owned oil tanker Stena Impero, which they said violated maritime rules while sailing through the Strait of Hormuz.

The Stena Impero had been heading for Saudi Arabia on Friday when it hit a fishing vessel, according to port authorities at Bandar Abbas, off which the tanker is now anchored.

This contradicts the message put out by the state-run news agency IRNA that claimed the British vessel was seized because if rammed an Iranian fishing vessel rather than because of Britain's actions near Gibraltar. "When the boat sent a distress call, the British-flagged ship ignored it", the head of Ports and Maritime Organisation in southern Hormozgan province told Fars.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said: "The seizure of these vessels is unacceptable, and the tanker that remains under Iranian control must be released".

The Philippines said the crew was made up of 18 Indians, three Russians, a Latvian and a Filipino.

Germany and France on Saturday also called on Iran to release the tanker.

The incidents have jolted the shipping industry, with some of the 2,000 companies operating ships in the region on high alert and many ordering their vessels to transit the Strait of Hormuz only during the daylight hours and at high speed. None of the 23 crew are British, said Hunt. "It is essential that freedom of navigation is maintained and that all ships can move safely and freely in the region".

"I'm extremely concerned by the seizure of two naval vessels by Iranian authorities in the Strait of Hormuz", Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said earlier, before concerns abated over the Mesdar.

He told Sky News: "I'm absolutely amazed that we haven't implemented some sort of control of red ensign shipping within the region whereby no tanker would go in to what is clearly a risky zone without an escort, and I find it freaky that we seem to have ships doing exactly that".

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Tensions have risen further since May, when the US announced it was dispatching an aircraft carrier and additional troops to the Middle East, citing unspecified threats posed by Iran.

An unnamed Iranian maritime official said the ship had breached global maritime regulations by passing through a prohibited maritime passage in the Strait, turning off its tracking signals and ignoring warnings issued by Iranian authorities.

He added: "The US will continue to work with our allies and partners to defend our security and interests against Iran's malign behaviour".

President Trump said the US Navy was forced into action after the drone came within 1,000 yards (914m) of a US warship on Thursday.

After the alleged footage was released by Iran, President Trump told reporters he was confident U.S. forces had "shot down" the drone. "They were very, very angry at being caught out".

But the United States military said the drone had been over global waters at the time, and condemned it as an unprovoked attack.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office reported that: "There are 23 seafarers aboard".

Refinitiv data showed the Stena Impero was a British-flagged vessel owned by Stena Bulk.

"We are in close contact with UK Government authorities".

Tensions in the Gulf are high, with fears that the USA and Iran could stumble into outright military conflict.

On 9 July, the United Kingdom raised the threat to British shipping in Iranian waters in the Gulf to "critical" - the highest level.

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