Iran has seized a UK-flagged tanker in the Strait of Hormuz in a dramatic escalation of tensions between the Islamic republic and the west.
Iran’s Revolutionary Guards said late Friday that the ship, the Stena Impero, was “seized by Zone 1 of the guards’ naval forces” as it moved through the Strait of Hormuz. The statement from the elite force added that the tanker “failed to observe the international maritime rules and regulations”.
The vessel’s owner, Stena Bulk, said it was approached by “unidentified small crafts and a helicopter during transit of the Strait of Hormuz”. The Swedish-based company said it was unable to contact the ship, which has a crew of 23.
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Tehran has repeatedly threatened to retaliate for the UK’s decision to seize an Iranian tanker suspected of smuggling oil to Syria in violation of EU sanctions this month.
The UK’s defence ministry said it was urgently investigating the possible interception of the Stena Impero.
“We are urgently seeking further information and assessing the situation following reports of an incident in the Gulf,” a spokesperson for the MoD said.
Last week, a Royal Navy frigate intervened to prevent Iranian forces impeding the passage of the tanker owned by BP, the UK energy, group as it moved through the Gulf.
Iran dismissed claims it had tried to impede the BP vessel. But as tensions between the US and the Islamic republic have escalated, Washington and London have blamed Iran for sabotage attacks on six tankers off the coast of the United Arab Emirates in May and June.
On Thursday, Donald Trump said the US had brought down an Iranian drone in the Gulf.
The Stella Impero was transiting one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes on Friday when tracking websites showed it abruptly changing course and heading into Iranian waters. The guards said the tanker had been handed over to Iran’s state-run Ports and Maritime Organisation.
The tanker’s seizure puts the UK and Iran on collision course at a time when Britain has been working with other European countries to de-escalate tensions.
The crisis in the Gulf was triggered by Mr Trump’s decision to unilaterally withdraw the US from the 2015 nuclear accord Iran signed with world powers.