London, 20 July 2019 (dpa/MIA) – Britain’s foreign minister warned Iran on Saturday that it was headed down a “dangerous path of illegal and destabilising behaviour” following its seizure of two British-linked oil tankers.
British ships have been told to avoid the Strait of Hormuz after tensions spiked Friday in the weeks-long stand-off between Tehran and London in the strategically important waterway for the world’s oil supply.
On Friday, Iran stopped the oil tanker Stena Impero in the strait over allegations of violating maritime law and escorted it to the port of Bandar Abbas, where it will stay pending an investigation, Iranian media reported citing the port authority.
The Stena Impero is British-flagged but operated by Sweden-based Stena Bulk. There were 23 crew members on board, the company said, including including 18 from India and others from Russia, Latvia and the Philippines.
Port authority spokesman Morad Afifipur said the tanker was seized on Friday after colliding with an Iranian fishing ship and ignoring the crew’s distress calls.
The fishing boat then alerted maritime authorities, who stopped the tanker in accordance with maritime regulations and escorted it to Bandar Abbas, Afifipur said according to Iran’s Isna news agency.
A second ship, the Liberian-flagged but British-operated tanker Mesdar, was also briefly detained on Friday before being released.
The confrontation between Britain and Iran began earlier this month when the Iranian oil carrier Grace 1 was impounded off the British territory of Gibraltar for allegedly violating EU sanctions on Syria. Britain later accused Iran of harassing a British ship in the Gulf.
Iranian forces also have had numerous run-ins with the US military in the region.
British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, who attended a meeting late Friday of the government’s emergency Cobra committee, tweeted on Saturday: “Yesterday’s action in Gulf shows worrying signs Iran may be choosing a dangerous path of illegal and destabilising behaviour after Gibraltar’s LEGAL detention of oil bound for Syria.”
“Our reaction will be considered but robust. We have been trying to find a way to resolve Grace1 issue but WILL ensure the safety of our shipping,” Hunt wrote.
Hunt has said that the Grace 1 could be released if Tehran proves the cargo wasn’t going to Syria. The ship’s captain and three others were arrested and later released on bail.
Stena Bulk said in a statement that the vessel was in “full compliance with all navigation and international regulations” when it was approached by “unidentified small crafts.” It said there were no reports of injury to the crew.
Germany and France have demanded Iran immediately release the oil tanker and said they stood by London in the dispute.
“This is an unjustifiable interference in the civilian shipping industry, which further exacerbates an already tense situation,” the German Foreign Ministry said on Saturday.
France urged Iran to respect the rules of unfettered shipping in international waters and said the latest incident would only heighten tensions in Gulf.
In Manila, the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs urged the release of the Filipino sailor on board the Stena Impero.
US President Donald Trump said his administration would be in contact with London.
He claimed on Thursday that the US “destroyed” an Iranian drone as it came within some 900 metres of the USS Boxer in the Strait of Hormuz.
Iran has denied the accusation, and the Revolutionary Guard released footage that it says disproves the claim.
Since Trump took office in 2017, the US has pursued a “maximum pressure” campaign on Iran, including pulling out of the nuclear deal world powers struck with Tehran in 2015.