UK-Iran tensions may cool off if both sides release seized ships

Two days after seizing the British oil tanker Stena Impero in the Strait of Hormuz, Iran says the vessel violated maritime rules and the incident is being investigated, local agencies report citing port authorities.

Stena Impero was seized on Friday after it collided with an Iranian fishing vessel ignoring the crew’s distress calls. The oil tanker was then escorted to the port of Bandar Abbas.

The seizure of Stena Impero comes days after the raid and impounding of an Iranian super-tanker Grace 1 off Gibraltar, a British overseas territory, by local police and port officials with the technical help of Royal Navy Marines. The ship was allegedly carrying millions of barrels of oil to Syria defying US sanctions on the war-torn country.

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif called the port authorities’ action on Friday legitimate.

Such decisive actions by Iranian patrol boats are contributing a lot to make the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz a safe zone for navigation, Zarif said.

While Iran defended the seizure of Stena Impero, the UK held two emergency meetings to discuss the incident and summoned Iran’s charge d’affaires to convey their strong protest.

British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt warned Tehran of the dangerous path it was treading.

Hunt expressed his disappointment over Iran’s failure to defuse tensions rising in the Gulf after the tit-for-tat downing of drones and attacks on oil tankers blamed on Iran.

He threatened Iran with strong diplomatic measures while ruling out military action.

Stena Bulk, the firm that operates Stena Impero, said the transponders on the ship clearly show that the vessel was in international waters following navigation rules when it was suddenly surrounded by Iranian patrol boats carrying revolutionary guards.

A Stena Bulk executive said the 23-member crew of the seized vessel are safe and in good health.

Britain said the oil tanker was seized in Omani waters in breach of international maritime rules.

 Trump claimed on Thursday that USS Boxer shot down an Iranian drone which flew dangerously close to the ship.

Last month, Iran shot down a US spy drone after the plane allegedly entered its airspace and ignored warnings to back off.

That incident almost prompted the US to launch airstrikes on Iranian targets.

The relations between the US and Iran worsened after President Donald Trump walked away from the Iran nuclear deal last year and re-imposed harsh sanctions on Tehran.

Since Iran cannot sell its oil due to the new US sanctions, it is trying to force oil tankers of various countries to abandon the Strait of Hormuz route.

It is feared that additional US sanctions prompting Iran to block or seize oil tankers using this route could lead to conflict between Iran and the US and Iran and Britain.

The Iran-UK tension is likely to cool off if Britain frees the Iranian ship seized off Gibraltar prompting Tehran to follow suit.