Iran tells UK to release oil tanker, denies blocking ship in Gulf

Iran has renewed its calls to immediately release its oil tanker seized by Britain off the coast of Gibraltar two weeks ago, IRNA reports.

Tehran’s demand comes hours after police in Gibraltar announced the arrest of the captain, chief officer, and two second mates, both Indian nationals, of the super tanker Grace 1.

It comes a day after UK’s defence ministry said three Iranian boats tried to obstruct a British Petroleum (BP) oil tanker as it was passing through the Strait of Hormuz last week.

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif denied the boat incident in the Gulf saying such claims by Britain and the US have no value and they are meant only to raise tensions in the Persian Gulf.

On Friday, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi told IRNA that Britain’s seizure of Grace 1 was at the behest of the US.

He warned British authorities not to get involved in a “dangerous game” staged by the White House and urged them to immediately release the ship and its crew.

Earlier, Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi called London’s defence of its action at sea weak. Contrary to Britain’s statement, the tanker was not bound for Syria and the port mentioned is not capable of receiving a super tanker like Grace 1, Araqchi said.

Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said Britain’s seizure of the tanker is a violation of the 2015 nuclear deal of which the UK is a signatory.

Two weeks ago, some 30 Royal Marines were flown in to help more than a hundred Gibraltar police and port officials in boarding the Iranian oil tanker suspected of carrying crude to Syria in violation of EU sanctions against the war-torn country.

Iran condemned the incident and summoned the British ambassador thrice to lodge its protest against the “illegal” seizure of the tanker.

After Britain on Thursday revealed the boat incident in the Strait of Hormuz, two American officials told media that the vessels carrying members of Iran’s Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) approached the tanker British Heritage and ordered it to stop.

The boats backed off only after the Royal Navy frigate HMS Montrose, which was escorting the BP tanker, warned them to disperse.

One of the US officials called the alleged incident an act of harassment and an attempt to interfere with the ship’s passage.

IRGG said their boats were patrolling the Persian Gulf and denied any encounter with foreign ships.

The IRGC Navy’s fifth zone would seize foreign vessels while patrolling the Gulf if an order is issued, it added.

This week, Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani warned of repercussions for seizure of Grace 1.

Last month, the US kept its warships and jet fighters ready to bomb targets in Tehran after IRGC shot down its drone near or inside Iran’s territorial waters. President Donald Trump called off the operation at the last minute as he felt it would be a disproportionate response to the downing of the drone.