News ID: 256131
Published: 0309 GMT July 21, 2019

Iran warns UK against escalating tensions, says crew of seized ship safe

Iran warns UK against escalating tensions, says crew of seized ship safe

International Desk

Zanganeh: Tanker incidents have not impacted oil exports

Labour: Britain should not become Trump’s 'messengers' over Iran

Iran's envoy to Britain warned against escalating tensions on Sunday as a UK official declined to rule out sanctions in response to Tehran's seizure of a British-flagged oil tanker.

Britain needs to contain "those domestic political forces who want to escalate existing tension between Iran and the UK well beyond the issue of ships," Iran's Ambassador to Britain Hamid Baeidinejad said on Twitter.

"This is quite dangerous and unwise at a sensitive time in the region," he said, adding that Iran "is firm and ready for different scenarios."

Britain has called Iran's capture of the Stena Impero in the Strait of Hormuz on Friday a "hostile act."

Tehran's seizure of the Stena Impero followed the July 4 capture by Royal Marines of the Grace I tanker carrying Iranian oil near Gibraltar.

Britain's Defence Secretary Tobias Ellwood reiterated calls for de-escalation on Sunday in an interview with Sky News.

"Well, firstly we need to try and de-escalate this. There has been a ratcheting-up of tensions in the Middle East," he said.

Ellwood also noted that the British Royal Navy "is too small to manage our interests across the globe."

He did not rule out the possibility of targeting Tehran with sanctions in response.

"Our first and most important responsibility is to make sure that we get a solution to the issue to do with the current ship, make sure other British-flagged ships are safe to operate in these waters and then look at the wider picture," Ellwood said.

Asked about the possibility of sanctions, he said, "We are going to be looking at a series of options ...We will be speaking with our colleagues, our international allies, to see what can actually be done."

British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt on Saturday said Tehran's actions showed "worrying signs Iran may be choosing a dangerous path."

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 I.

In a letter to the UN Security Council, Britain said the Stena Impero was approached by Iranian forces in Omani territorial waters where it was exercising its lawful right of passage, and that the action "constitutes illegal interference."

London warned its ships to avoid the Strait of Hormuz, a chokepoint for about a third of the world's seaborne oil.

Britain called the seizure a "dangerous" and summoned Iran's charge d'affaires on Saturday, urging Iran to de-escalate tensions and release the tanker.

British warship HMS Montrose radioed an Iranian patrol vessel to warn it against boarding the Stena Impero, according to radio messages provided by maritime security firm Dryad Global.

In the audio recording released Sunday, a British naval officer can be heard saying the transit of a British-flagged vessel through the Strait of Hormuz must not be impaired under international law as Iranian naval forces warn the vessel to change course.

The audio shows how the British Navy was unable to prevent the ship's seizure. 

In the recording, an Iranian officer can be heard telling the Stena Impero to change course, saying, "You obey, you will be safe."

"Alter your course to 360 degrees immediately, over," the officer says, before saying the ship is wanted for security reasons.

A British naval officer from the HMS Montrose frigate patrolling the area around the Strait of Hormuz is heard telling the Stena Impero that its passage must be allowed.

"Sir, I reiterate that as you are conducting transit passage in a recognized international strait, under international law your passage must not be impaired, intruded, obstructed or hampered," the British officer says.

The British officer then tells an Iranian patrol boat, "Please confirm that you are not intending to violate international law by unlawfully attempting to board the MV Stena."


All crew safe

Iran said the seized tanker "risked maritime safety."

"We are required by regulations to investigate the issue ... the duration of the investigation depends on the level of cooperation by the involved parties," Allahmorad Afifipour, head of Iran's Ports and Maritime Organization in Hormuzgan Province, said.

"God willing, we will make every effort to gather all the information as soon as possible," he added.

Afifipour added that all 23 crew members aboard the ship are "safe and in good health in Bandar Abbas port."

The vessel's Sweden-based owner, Stena Bulk, said it hoped to visit the crew, who are from India, Latvia, the Philippines and Russia. India has called on Iran to release the ship's 18 Indian crew members.

The vessel was taken with its 23 crew members to Bandar Abbas after the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps seized it in the Strait of Hormuz on Friday.

The IRGC on Saturday released video footage showing vessel being surrounded by speedboats before troops in balaclavas descend down a rope from a helicopter onto the ship.

Iran detained the oil tanker for failing to respond to distress calls and turning off its transponder after hitting a fishing boat.

The fishermen had issued a distress call after the collision and contacted the port authority when they "didn't receive any response," said Afifipour.

Iran had vowed to give a proper response for the seizure of the Grace I tanker by British forces.

"The Britons hijacked [the tanker in Gibraltar], the IRGC responded to them," Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani told a Parliament session aired live on state radio.

Ships using the Strait of Hormuz also pass through Iranian waters, which are patrolled by Iran’s IRGC.


Oil export not affected

Iran is reeling from the pressure of US sanctions imposed on its banks and oil exports by US President Donald Trump last year after he pulled the United States out of a 2015 international pact with Iran designed to curb Tehran's nuclear program.

US waivers which allowed eight countries to keep buying Iranian oil – China, Greece, India, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and Turkey – expired on May 2.

"The export of oil is one of the issues in which we have limitations and the US and its allies have caused restrictions for us and we have to be sensitive," Iran's Oil Minister Bijan Namdar Zanganeh said on Sunday.

He said the country's oil exports had not been impacted so far by the recent tanker incidents in the Persian Gulf.


US ‘sidekicks’

Richard Burgon, the justice spokesman for the opposition Labour Party, said on Sunday Britain should not become the “messengers” for Trump over Iran’s seizure of a UK-flagged tanker.

Warning that Britain should not be dragged into a conflict as it was in Iraq, Burgon told Sky News, “I think we can play a very positive role in this ... Our role is to speak up for conflict resolution, de-escalation, the nuclear deal.

“But what we don’t want to do is end up being the messengers or sidekicks of Donald Trump.”

Oman has urged Iran to release the tanker and called on all parties to exercise restraint and resolve differences diplomatically.

“The sultanate is in contact with all parties to ensure safe passage of commercial vessels crossing the strait, while preserving its right to its own territorial waters,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

Reuters, AP and AFP contributed to this story.


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