Iran: Fate of seized ship depends on ‘cooperation’

by AFP / pic by AFP

IRAN • Iran said yesterday the fate of a British-flagged tanker it is refusing to hand back after seizing it in the Gulf depends on the cooperation of its crew with an investigation.

The Stena Impero was impounded with its 23 crew members aboard at the port of Bandar Abbas after the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) seized it last Friday in the strategic Strait of Hormuz.

Video footage released by the IRGC on Saturday showed a ship with the oil tanker’s markings being surrounded by speedboats before troops in balaclavas descend down a rope from a helicopter onto the vessel.

A recording of radio exchanges involving the Iranian forces, the tanker crew and a British navy frigate emerged yesterday, in reports confirmed by Britain’s Defence Ministry.

Iran detained the ship on allegations it failed to respond to distress calls and turned off its transponder after hitting a fishing boat.

Its crew is made up of 18 Indians, including the captain, three Russians, a Latvian and a Filipino.

“All of them are in full health, they are on the vessel…anchored in a safe place,” said Allah-Morad Afifipoor, DG of the Hormozgan province port and maritime authority.

“The investigation depends on the cooperation by the crew members on the vessel,” he told Press TV.

Britain summoned Iran’s charge d’affaires on Saturday and urged his country to deescalate tensions and release the tanker.

Iran’s Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani hit out at the British, saying they “stole and got a response” from the IRGC, according to ISNA news agency.

He was referring to the seizure of an Iranian tanker by British authorities in the Mediterranean two weeks ago.

Iran has opened an investigation into the Stena Impero after the alleged collision.

The fishermen had issued a distress call and contacted the port authority when it went unanswered, said Afifipoor, quoted by Fars News Agency.

India, Latvia and the Philippines said they had approached Iran to seek the release of their nationals.

The Stena Impero’s owner said it was in “international waters” when it was “attacked by unidentified small crafts and a helicopter”.

Tehran and Washington have been at loggerheads since May 2018 when US President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew the US from a landmark 2015 deal putting curbs on Iran’s nuclear programme in exchange for sanctions relief.

Germany and France urged Iran to release the Stena Impero as the European Union voiced concern.

British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said the seizure showed “worrying signs Iran may be choosing a dangerous path of illegal and destabilising behaviour”.

Hunt called it a “tit-for-tat” situation, as it came hours after a court in Gibraltar said it would extend by 30 days the detention of the Grace 1 Iranian tanker seized two weeks ago on allegations of breaching United Nations’ sanctions against Syria.

In a separate development, Iran said one of its tankers held in its regional rival Saudi Arabia since being forced to seek repairs in the kingdom is returning home.

The Happiness 1 “has been released following negotiations and is now moving toward Persian Gulf waters,” said Transport Minister Mohammad Eslami, quoted by state news agency IRNA. — AFP