Iran’s diversion of the British-flagged, MR2 product tanker Stena Impero has further ramped up shipping tensions in the Middle East Gulf
UPDATE: Stena Bulk reports that crew members have been able to talk directly with their families. It also confirms that "There is no evidence of a collision involving Stena Impero, and at the time of the seizure the vessel was well within the inbound traffic separation scheme and out of Iranian territorial waters. All required navigational equipment, including transponders, were fully functioning, in compliance with maritime regulations."
In other crew news, the Hindu Times reports that Iran has released nine out of 12 Indian crew members that were on board the ship Riah, which was diverted to Iran in early July. This leaves three Indians remaining on-board Riah, 18 Indian crew on board Stena Impero and 24 Indian crew on-board Grace 1, which is detained in Gibraltar.
In the wake of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard forces boarding MR2 product tanker Stena Impero, a statement from the military force said the tanker "was confiscated by the Revolutionary Guards... for failing to respect international maritime rules".
Video posted online showed Iranian Revolutionary Guard forces rappelling from helicopters to the ship’s deck in the Strait of Hormuz.
Audio from the moments leading up to the incident has also emerged, posted to the Twitter feed of security risk management firm Dryad Global. The VHF audio purports to feature an Iranian coast guard authority telling a British naval officer on board the HMS Montrose, which is patrolling the area, "I want to inspect the ship for security reasons".
On the evening of 19 July 2019 Stena Bulk and Northern Marine Management issued the following statement:
“Stena Bulk and Northern Marine Management can confirm that at approximately 1600 BST on 19 July UK-registered vessel Stena Impero (built 2018, 49,683 dwt) was approached by unidentified small crafts and a helicopter during transit of the Strait of Hormuz while the vessel was in international waters. We are presently unable to contact the vessel which is now heading north towards Iran.
Northern Marine Management has not been able to establish contact directly with the vessel since it was notified of the incident at approximately 1600 19 July.
Stena Bulk president and chief executive Erik Hanell said “There are 23 seafarers on board of Indian, Russian, Latvian and Filipino nationality. There have been no reported injuries and the safety and welfare of our crew remains our primary focus. We are in close contact with both the UK and Swedish Government authorities to resolve this situation and we are liaising closely with our seafarers’ families.”
According to Iran, the vessel has been diverted to Iran due to an incident with a local fishing vessel and the diversion is part of an investigation by the Iranian authorities. On the same day another tanker was ordered to change course by Iranian authorities, but later resumed its intended course.
The UK and its allies regard the diversion of Stena Impero as a pretext and in retaliation for the detention of Grace 1 in Gibraltar.
The diversion of Stena Impero is the latest in a series of provocations by the actors on all sides of the Iran Crisis: