Tensions between the West and the Islamic State Iran have reached a new high this week, as the The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps seized a British oil tanker in the Gulf. The ship called Stena Impero was on its way to ports in Saudi Arabia when it was captured by Iranian forces, according to the BBC.
At a press conference on July 18, U.S. President Donald Trump told reporters that a US Navy ship “destroyed” an Iranian drone over the Strait of Hormuz. That come just a month after a US drone was taken down in a nearby area, after allegedly flying within Iranian airspace.
Iran Captures British Oil Tanker
The Iranian Revolutionary Guard has seized the British oil tanker Stena Impero in the Strait of Hormuz, Iranian media reported. UK authorities admitted that the tanker had ‘veered off course’ before capture.
The Stena Impero was headed to Saudi Arabia but left the international sea lanes and headed north towards the Iranian island of Qeshm, marine tracking data showed on Friday.
Prior to the seizure, the tanker turned off its tracking device and had ignored warnings, Iranian military sources told state media.
“The reason behind the detention of the British tanker is that it did not adhere to the sea routes in the Strait of Hormuz, turned off the automatic identification system (AIS), polluted international waters and did not pay attention to the warnings of Iran,” the source said.
The 30,000-ton tanker is owned by Stena Bulk, and was bound for the Saudi port of Al Jubail.
Stena issued a statement that the ship was “approached by unidentified small crafts and a helicopter during transit of the Strait of Hormuz, while the vessel was in international waters.”
BREAKING: The British flagged 'Stena Impero' has taken a very sudden turn into Iranian waters despite her original destination being Saudi Arabia, according to data relayed by maritime tracking services. https://t.co/LCkqa5KsLu
— UK Defence Journal (@UKDefJournal) July 19, 2019
The company is “presently unable to contact the vessel which is now heading north towards Iran.” There are 23 crew members aboard.
UK authorities said they were “assessing the situation following reports of an incident in the Gulf.”
Another tanker, the Liberian-flagged Mesdar, abruptly changed course and headed for the Iranian mainland on Friday evening. The ship is owned by Norbulk Shipping UK and was bound for Ras Tanura in Saudi Arabia.
Confirmed VLCC tanker #Mesdar owned by “New Ocean Shipping Venture Ltd,” Glasgow, UK and operated by “Norbulk Shipping UK Ltd,” also headquartered in Glasgow https://t.co/ybRRMFymC8 pic.twitter.com/oCFqFVLEBk
— Strategy Matters (@MT_Strat) July 19, 2019
Tehran and London have been at odds since July 4, when Royal Marines boarded and seized Iranian tanker Grace 1 off Gibraltar, accusing the ship of illegally transporting oil to Syria. Iranian authorities condemned the seizure as “piracy” and vowed to retaliate.
Six days later, the Royal Navy said its frigate HMS Montrose intervened to prevent several Iranian boats from seizing the UK-flagged tanker British Heritage in the Persian Gulf.
Earlier this week, alarms were raised after the disappearance of the Emirati-based tanker MT Riah, flying the Panamanian flag. Iran said the tanker experienced technical troubles and had been towed to port for repairs.
On Thursday, a US warship entered the Persian Gulf and reportedly shot down an Iranian drone that had approached to within 1,000 meters in a “threatening” manner. Iran has denied losing any drones, however.
Washington has sought to establish a “coalition” of allied navies in the region to ensure “freedom of navigation” in the Strait of Hormuz, one of the most important shipping lanes in the world for oil traffic.