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Iran takes British oil tanker Tanker: Iran denies that U.S. downed drone.

Byline: Amir Vahdat, Gregory Katz and Robert Burns Associated Press

LONDON -- Iran seized a British-flagged oil tanker Friday and briefly detained a second vessel in the Strait of Hormuz, intensifying tensions in the strategic waterway that has become a flashpoint between Tehran and the West.

The seizing of the British tanker marked perhaps the most significant escalation since tensions between Iran and the West began rising in May. The ongoing showdown has caused jitters around the globe, with each maneuver bringing fear that any misunderstanding or misstep by either side could lead to war.

Details of what took place Friday remained sketchy after Iran reported it had seized a British oil tanker in the Strait of Hormuz. The strait at the mouth of the Persian Gulf is a shipping channel for one-fifth of all global crude exports.

The Stena Impero was taken to an Iranian port because it was not complying with

"international maritime laws and regulations," Iran's Revolutionary Guard declared.

A statement from Stena Bulk, which owns the seized tanker, said it was unable to make contact with the ship after it was approached by unidentified vessels and a helicopter in international waters. A spokesman for the company's owners said the tanker was in "full compliance with all navigation and international regulations."

The company said the tanker had 23 crew members who are Indian, Russian, Latvian and Filipino and there were no reports any of them were injured.

The United Kingdom has featured prominently in the recent tensions with Iran. Britain's Royal Marines assisted in the seizure of an Iranian oil supertanker July 4 by Gibraltar, a British overseas territory off the southern coast of Spain.

Britain said it would release the vessel if Iran could prove it was not breaching EU sanctions on oil shipments to Syria.

Gibraltar's government said Friday its Supreme Court had extended by 30 days the detention of the Panama-flagged Grace, which was loaded with over 2 million barrels of Iranian crude oil.

U.K. Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt initially said two ships were seized Friday in the Strait of Hormuz, the second sailing under a Liberian flag.

The owner of the Liberian-flagged tanker later said the ship was briefly boarded by armed guards before being allowed to go. Iran's semiofficial Fars news agency tweeted that the Mesdar had left Iran's territorial waters.

"These seizures are unacceptable," Hunt said as he prepared to enter an emergency government meeting Friday night. "It is essential that freedom of navigation is maintained and that all ships can move safely and freely in the region."

"We're not looking at military options; we're looking at a diplomatic way to resolve the situation, but we are very clear that it must be resolved," Hunt later told Sky News, warning that if the situation is not resolved quickly "there will be serious consequences."

U.K. Chamber of Shipping CEO Bob Sanguinetti said the seizure represented a severe escalation of tensions in the Gulf and made it clear that merchant vessels urgently needed more protection.

The British government should do "whatever is necessary" to ensure the safe and swift return of the ship's crew, Sanguinetti said.

President Donald Trump said U.S. officials would talk with Britain about the unfolding crisis.

"This only goes to show what I'm saying about Iran: Trouble, nothing but trouble," he said.

Central Command said the United States has intensified air patrols over the Strait of Hormuz in response to the seizure. A Central Command spokesman, Lt. Col. Earl Brown, said a small number of additional patrol aircraft are flying in international airspace to monitor the situation.

The seizure came two days after Washington claimed that a U.S. warship downed an Iranian drone in the strait. Iran denied that it lost an aircraft in the area, and neither country has offered evidence to prove its claim.

On June 20, Iran shot down a U.S. drone in the same waterway. Trump came close to retaliating but called off an airstrike at the last moment.

Tensions in the region have been escalating since Trump last year withdrew the United States from Iran's 2015 nuclear deal with world powers and imposed sweeping economic sanctions on Iran, including its oil exports. The sanctions have hit the Iranian economy hard.

Late Friday, officials said the United States is sending several hundred troops as well as aircraft and air defense missiles to Saudi Arabia to counter Iran. The move has been in the works for many weeks and is not a response to Friday's events.

The arrangement was announced by the Saudi government, which said it was meant to "enhance security" in the region.

Although the recent incidents have jolted the shipping industry, just a few of the roughly 2,000 companies that operate ships in the Persian Gulf have halted bookings outright.

Crude oil prices rose Friday after Iran's announcement.
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Author:Vahdat, By Amir; Katz, Gregory; Press, Robert Burns Associated
Publication:Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jul 20, 2019
Words:810
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