TEHRAN – British-flagged oil tanker Stena Impero was being held at Iran’s port of Bandar Abas on Saturday with 23 crew members on board following its seizure by Iran’s armed forces in the Strait of Hormuz.
The incident, which took place as the vessel headed to Saudi Arabia from United Arab Emirates, has triggered a new diplomatic crisis between Iran and the United Kingdom, as well as a spike in tensions in the Persian Gulf region.
These are five keys to understanding the situation:
Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) announced on Friday it had seized a British oil tanker that allegedly breached maritime regulations as it navigated the Strait of Hormuz.
Iranian navy’s vessels intercepted the Stena Impero upon a request of the ports and maritime authority in the coastal province of Hormozgan, the IRGC said in a statement.
Stena Bulk said it had lost contact with the 30,000-ton tanker at around 3 pm GMT shortly after it received warnings that several ships and a helicopter were approaching.
2- Iran’s official justification
The tanker collided with a fishing boat and an investigation has been opened into the incident, according to the director-general of the ports and maritime department of Hormuzgan, Allahmorad Afifipour.
Stena Impero was being held for turning off its GPS, entering the Strait via the southern route, which is supposed to be the way out, and not responding to warnings from the ports and maritime department, sources close to the case said, as cited by Iran’s private Tasnim agency.
3- The back story
On July 4, the British navy held Iranian tanker Grace 1 off Gibraltar over suspicions the vessel was transporting oil to Syria, which would violate European Union sanctions.
Gibraltar’s Supreme Court extended Grace 1’s detention period for another 30 days on Friday, despite Iran denying the boat had been bound for Syria.
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei considered the incident an “act of maritime piracy,” warning that his country would respond at the right moment.
4- The UK reaction
Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt denounced the “unacceptable” seizure of the Stena Impero and said he would go down the diplomatic route in order to resolve the situation.
He warned of “serious consequences” if the situation was not resolved soon, although he made it clear that a military option was not on the table.
The British government urged its vessels to stay away from the Strait for the time being.
5- The tanker and its crew
The Stena Impero has been taken to the port of Bandar Abas and its 23-man crew remains on board for security reasons.
The crew includes 18 Indian sailors, including the captain, and five others from Russian, the Philippines and Latvia.
The vessel will remain where it is, according to the ports and maritime department, while authorities investigate the incident.