Iran releases UK-flagged tanker after two months

September 28, 2019

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Stena Impero, an oil tanker held off the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas for more than two months, sets sail towards the Gulf’s international waters.—AFP
Stena Impero, an oil tanker held off the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas for more than two months, sets sail towards the Gulf’s international waters.—AFP

TEHRAN: The British-flagged oil tanker Stena Impero, which had been held off the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas for more than two months, set sail on Friday and reached international waters, the provincial maritime organisation and its owner said.

The ship’s seizure was widely seen as a tit-for-tat move after authorities in the British overseas territory of Gibraltar detained an Iranian tanker on suspicion it was shipping oil to Syria in breach of EU sanctions. Tehran repeatedly denied the cases were related.

“The Stena Impero started sailing from the mooring towards the Persian Gulf’s international waters as of 9am today,” Hormozgan province’s maritime organisation said on its website.

“Despite the vessel’s clearance, its legal case is still open in Iran’s courts,” the organisation said.

The tanker’s captain and crew have “given a written, official statement that they have no claims”, it added.

The CEO of Stena Bulk, the Swedish company that owns the vessel, said it had reached international waters at around 0945 GMT and was headed for Dubai.

Erik Hanell said it was “obviously a relief” and added that the priority now was the crew.

“When we reach Dubai we will firstly take care of the crew and then try and get the ship in operational order again,” he said.

The tanker’s crew are “safe and in high spirits” and arrangements have been made for them to return to their families upon arrival in Dubai, Hannel said in an official statement sent to the press.

“The crew will have a period of time to be with their families following 10 weeks of detainment on the vessel. Full support will be offered to the crew and families in the coming weeks to assist with their recovery,” he added. The company did not release the names of the crew members.

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards seized the vessel in the Strait of Hormuz on July 19 after surrounding it with attack boats and rappelling onto its deck.

It was impounded off the port of Bandar Abbas for allegedly failing to respond to distress calls and turning off its transponder after hitting a fishing boat.

Seven of its 23 crew members were released on September 4.

British Foreign Secretary Domini Raab said the tanker was “unlawfully seized by Iran” as part of its attempts to “disrupt freedom of navigation”.

Published in Dawn, September 28th, 2019