New Zealand Foreign Minister Winston Peters condemns Iran over British oil tanker seizures

New Zealand's foreign minister Winston Peters has sent a stern message to Iran after it seized two oil tankers in the Strait of Hormuz last week.

On Friday, tensions escalated in the Gulf waterway after the Iranian Revolutionary Guards boarded two oil tankers - the British-flagged Swedish vessel Stena Impero and Liberian-registered but British-operated tanker, the Mesdar.

According to the Mesdar's ship manager Norbulk Shipping, the vessel was boarded by "armed personnel", but soon let go. It insists that the ship was in compliance with all regulations. 

The Stena Impero and its 23 crew, however, remains seized by Iran. A spokesperson for former British Prime Minister Theresa May called the seizure illegal on Monday, while former British foreign minister Jeremy Hunt repeatedly called for Iran to let up.

It's seizure came despite efforts by HMS Montrose, a Royal Navy frigate, to ward off the Iranian Revolutionary Guards.

Peters released a statement on Thursday condemning the actions of Iran and calling for the release of the oil tanker. 

"The seizure of commercial ships in this important transit lane is an inexcusable violation of international law, including the freedom of navigation," Peters said,

"Iran's recent actions risk escalating a dangerous situation in the Gulf region. We call on Iran to release the detained vessels and to engage with the international community in steps that help reduce tensions and the prospect of conflict.

"Officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade have communicated New Zealand’s concerns to the Iranian Embassy in Wellington."

Winston Peters has condemned the behaviour.
Winston Peters has condemned the behaviour. Photo credit: Newshub / Reuters.

Iran contends Stena Impero failed to observe international maritime rules and regulations, passing through the wrong channels of the Strait of Hormuz and turning off its signals for extensive periods. Iran also said Stena Impero has collided with a fishing boat - something the ship's owner, Stena Bulk denies.

Stena Bulk has had contact with Stena Impero's crew, who are safe.

The seizure has also been labelled a retaliation to Britain capturing an Iranian tanker near Gibraltar earlier this month.

Britain sent Royal Marines to take control of Iran's Grace 1 oil tanker on July 4 on suspicion it was transporting oil to Syria in violation of European Union (EU) sanctions on the Syrian Government.

Iran is open to swapping the two vessels, but Britain wants assurances that Grace 1 wasn't heading to Syria. 

Stena Impero.
Stena Impero. Photo credit: Reuters.

New British Prime Minister Boris Johnson will have to soon decide how to move forward with the issue. There have been suggestions of forming a EU alliance in the Gulf or joining a coalition with the United States.

An alliance between the EU and the United States is unlikely though, with EU states angry with President Donald Trump's withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran.

Tension in the Gulf has been escalating over the last few months, with Iran breaching agreements on levels of uranium enrichment and downing an unmanned American drone. The United States also tightened sanctions after withdrawing from the nuclear deal.

Newshub has contacted the Iranian embassy for response.