9 April: Iran releases seized South Korean tanker Hankuk Chemi
- South Korea’s Foreign Ministry has confirmed the safe release of 17,400-dwt, South Korea-flagged tanker Hankuk Chemi which was detained by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Forces in January over an alleged dispute involving pollution, and shortly after Iran reportedly had assets frozen by South Korean banks.
"The detention of a Korean national ship and the captain of the ship, which was detained by Iranian authorities on 4 January 2021 and anchored at Rajai Port near Bandar Abbas, Iran, was lifted today. It was confirmed that the master and crew are in good health, and there is no abnormality in the ship’s overall condition, such as cargo. After completing local administrative procedures, the ship departed safely... at Iranian local time 05:50."
5 January: South Korea delegation to negotiate for tanker’s release
- Britain’s BBC reports that South Korea will send a delegation to Iran "at the earliest possible date" to try to negotiate the release of the tanker seized by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards. The BBC report said the tanker operators deny allegations of pollution.
- Iran’s Tasmin news agency reports that a "Korean foreign ministry official met with Iranian top envoy in Seoul on Tuesday to discuss yesterday’s seizure of a South Korean tanker in the Strait of Hormuz over technical issues".
- Multiple news outlets report Iranian Government denials that the seizure is a form of hostage-taking linked to Iranian funds reported to be US$7Bn being held by South Korea.
4 January: Iranian forces seize South Korea-flagged tanker
- Following another escalation in tensions between the US and Iran, security firms including UKMTO, Dryad Global and Ambrey Intelligence report an incident involving 17,400-dwt, South Korea-flagged tanker Hankuk Chemi being diverted under escort into Iranian waters.
- State-linked Iranian news outlets including television and online publications confirm the tanker’s detention, along with allegations of "environmental pollution".
- VesselsValue website, tracking vessels and their market values, shows Hankuk Chemi’s position in the Strait of Hormuz in the vicinity of the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas and lists Nordic Tankers as the vessel’s operators.
- Associated Press reports that Iran restarts 20% uranium enrichment.
6 January: British warships sent into the Middle East Gulf to protect UK-flagged tankers
- Following the US drone strike that killed Iranian Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani on 3 January 2020 in Baghdad, the UK Government has ordered the warships HMS Norfolk and HMS Montrose into the Straits of Hormuz. Their remit is to protect UK-flagged tankers from any possible retaliatory attacks from Iranian forces or its proxies.
21 January: EU nations back naval patrol in Strait of Hormuz
- Eight EU members have promised political backing for a naval initiative that aims to assist civilian vessels in the Middle East shipping lane and to ’de-escalate’ tensions in the region
30 November: Spate of tanker-related incidents on the rise in Middle East waters
03 December: The risks of trading in the Middle East remain of real concern
14 December: Hafnia tanker hit by explosion in Jeddah
12 May: Four oil tankers suffer explosions while at anchor off the coast of Fujirah, UAE
13 June: Front Altair and Kokuka Courageous are hit by explosions in the Gulf of Oman
Read more of our overage on the re-emergence of ’tanker wars’ in the Middle East:
3 July: Gibraltar names Grace 1 in “Specified Ship Notice”
- The notice requires Grace 1’s detainment for up to 72 hours if the vessel enters British Gibraltar Territorial Waters (BGTW).
- Grace 1 enters BGTW just after midnight on 4 July, according to AIS data from VesselsValue. The data also shows Grace 1 delivering a cargo at Khor Fakhan in the United Arab Emirates in late January 2019, remaining at anchor there until mid-April when it was listed as “floating storage” before setting off in late May on a journey around Africa’s southern tip on its way to the Mediterranean, where it arrived laden.
4 July: Grace 1 detained in Gibraltar
- In the early morning hours, Gibraltar police and 30 of Britain’s Royal Marines board and detain the 300,600-dwt VLCC tanker Grace 1 and its cargo.
- Chief Minister of Her Majesty’s Government of Gibraltar, Fabian Picardo releases a video statement laying out what he calls the “reasonable grounds” for detaining the tanker, including the belief that the tanker was carrying its cargo of crude oil to Syria’s Baniyas Refinery, in breach of EU sanctions.
- Spain’s foreign minister Josep Borrell reportedly claims Gibraltar detained Grace 1 following a US request to Britain to seize the tanker.
- Iran summons Britain’s ambassador in Tehran over what Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi terms the “illegal seizure” of Grace 1.
5 July: Iran threatens British vessels
- Advisor to Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Khamanei tweets “If Britain does not release the Iranian oil tanker, it is the authorities’ duty to seize a British oil tanker.”
- Iran accuses the UK of acting on “the order of the US” in seizing Grace 1.
- Gibraltar releases a statement saying “There has been no political request at any time from any Government that the Gibraltar Government should act or not act, on one basis or another.”
- Gibraltar Supreme Court orders Grace 1’s detention extended by a further 14 days citing “reasonable grounds” and compliance with EU sanctions against Syria.
6 July: Tanker changes course in Gulf
- News reports highlight British-flagged tanker Pacific Voyager “veering” off course, but United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations explain the tanker was “adjusting its arrival time at the next port”.
7 July: Norwegian-owned tanker involved in May’s incidents in Fujairah returns to Iran
- After it was one of several tankers holed in incidents in the Strait of Hormuz in May, AIS data shows MR2 tanker Andrea Victory has returned, laden, to the Iranian port of Bandar Imam Khomeini.
8 July: BP oil tanker “shelters” in Middle East Gulf
- News reports claim BP Shipping-operated tanker British Heritage has “cancelled” a voyage to Iraq’s Basrah terminal to avoid sailing near to Iran’s coast, citing unnamed sources.
- Gibraltar releases a statement saying Grace 1 was detained when the vessel “freely navigated into BGTW… on a pre-arranged call for provisions and spare parts”.
- Gibraltar’s statement says it has confirmed Grace 1 is carrying a “full load of crude oil”.
9 July: UK military escort for Pacific Voyager
- Online ship data watchers spot what they believe to be a British warship or possibly two escorting British-flagged tanker Pacific Voyager on its voyage through the Strait of Hormuz.
10 July: UK military escort for British Heritage
- AIS website Marine Traffic shows BP-operated tanker British Heritage flanked by a UK warship escort approaching the Strait of Hormuz.
11 July: Iranian vessels attempt to seize British tanker
- BP-operated tanker British Heritage is reportedly approached by Iranian gunboats, which are seen off when British warship HMS Montrose turns its guns toward the boats.
13 July: UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) to send second warship to Gulf
- Already having sent HMS Montrose to the Middle East Gulf to protect commercial trade, HMS Duncan, a Type 45 destroyer, is to be deployed with the aim of being in the Gulf region by next week.
- IRNA reports the MoD and UK’s ambassador to Iran saying the vessel is replacing others and not a part of any international maritime coalition proposed by the US.
13 July: UK-Iran talks offer possibility for Grace 1’s release
- UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt tweets that the UK would facilitate the release of Grace 1 if Iran could offer assurance the vessel was not destined to deliver its cargo to Syria.
- "Just spoke to Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif. Constructive call. I reassured him our concern was destination not origin of the oil on Grace 1 and that UK would facilitate release if we received guarantees that it would not be going to Syria, following due process in [Gibraltar] courts. Was told by FM Zarif that Iran wants to resolve issue and is not seeking to escalate. Also spoke to Fabian Picardo who is doing an excellent job co-ordinating issue and shares UK perspective on the way forward.”
14 July: Clean product tanker Riah disappears from AIS tracking in Strait of Hormuz
- Riah, a 30-year old, 1,900-dwt bunkering tanker listed under UAE-based Prime Tankers disappears from AIS tracking near Larak Island, which lies in Iranian territorial waters in the Strait of Hormuz.
- The Panamanian-flagged vessel reportedly did not send a distress call, according to Emirati officials, who deny the ship is UAE-owned.
- The Iranian Foreign Ministry says Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard picked up an SOS signal from a foreign-flagged oil tanker in the Middle East Gulf and brought it to Iranian waters for repair.
18 July: IRGC claim to have seized an oil tanker in Strait of Hormuz
- Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy says it seized a ’foreign’ oil tanker on 14 July, in the Middle East Gulf with 12 crew on board, alleging that the ship was smuggling 1M litres of fuel.
18 July: Gibraltar and Iran confirm talks in London
- Gibraltar’s Chief Minister Fabian Picardo holds a meeting in London with Iranian officials to discusss Grace 1’s detention and "to seek to de-escalate" issues surrounding the detention.
19 July: Gibraltar’s Chief Minister reports on talks to UK Parliament
- Chief Minister Fabian Picardo gives a statement to parliament to summarise his meeting in London with Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif and other officials
- "We discussed with our Iranian interlocutors matters related to the detention of Grace 1," Mr Picardo said. "At every stage we emphasised the distinct nature of Gibraltar’s jurisdiction and the independence of the Supreme Court of Gibraltar as well as the importance of the due process of law being followed in a state governed by the rule of law."
19 July: Gibraltar’s Supreme Court extends Grace 1 detention
- The Government of Gibraltar released a statement saying, "a private meeting of the Supreme Court on an application by the Attorney General, the Court has extended the period of detention of the vessel, Grace 1, for a further 30 days and has set a new hearing for 15 August 2019".