by Ben Ariel
Britain complains to UN over Iran's seizure of a British-flagged oil tanker in the Persian Gulf.
The Stena Impero at Bander Abass port
Britain on Saturday denounced Iran’s seizure of a British-flagged oil tanker in the Persian Gulf, rejecting Tehran’s explanation that it seized the vessel because it had been involved in an accident, Reuters reported.
Iran’s Revolutionary Guards posted a video online showing speedboats pulling alongside the Stena Impero tanker, its name clearly visible. Troops wearing ski masks and carrying machine guns rappelled to its deck from a helicopter, the same tactics used by British Royal Marines to seize an Iranian tanker off the coast of Gibraltar two weeks ago.
British Defense Secretary Penny Mordaunt called the incident a “hostile act”, while Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said he had expressed “extreme disappointment” by phone to his Iranian counterpart, Mohammad Javad Zarif.
Britain also summoned the Iranian charge d’affaires in London.
A spokesman for Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, Brigadier-General Ramezan Sharif, said Tehran had seized the ship in the Strait of Hormuz despite the “resistance and interference” of a British warship which had been escorting it. No British warship was visible in the video posted by the Guards.
Iran’s Fars news agency said the Guards had taken control of the Stena Impero on Friday after it collided with an Iranian fishing boat whose distress call it ignored.
In a letter to the UN Security Council on Saturday night, Britain said the tanker was approached by Iranian forces when it was in Omani territorial waters exercising its lawful right of passage, and the action “constitutes illegal interference.”
“Current tensions are extremely concerning, and our priority is to de-escalate. We do not seek confrontation with Iran,” the letter said. “But it is unacceptable and highly escalatory to threaten shipping going about its legitimate business through internationally recognized transit corridors.”
Another oil tanker, the Mesdar, was also boarded by Iranian personnel on Friday and temporarily forced to divert toward Iran, but later was allowed to continue on its route through the strait.
On Saturday, Algeria’s APS news agency said the Mesdar was owned by Algeria’s state oil company Sonatrach.
Friday’s incident came two weeks after the British naval force seized an Iranian oil tanker in Gibraltar on suspicion that it was carrying crude oil to Syria, in violation of EU sanctions.
The detention of the tanker angered Iran, which condemned the move as an "illegal interception" and summoned the British ambassador in protest.
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