UK Foreign Secretary urges Iran to release seized ship

UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt has urged Iran to release the British-flagged tanker it seized in the Gulf.

Iran's Fars news agency said Iran's Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) had taken control of the Stena Impero on Friday after it collided with an Iranian fishing boat whose distress call it ignored.

The IRGC posted a video online showing speedboats pulling alongside the Stena Impero tanker, its name clearly visible.

Troops wearing ski masks and carrying machine guns then 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.

Friday's action in the global oil trade's most important waterway has been viewed in the West as a major escalation after three months of confrontation that has already taken Iran and the United States to the brink of war.

British Defence Secretary Penny Mordaunt on Saturday called the incident a "hostile act", and Hunt said it "raises very serious questions" about the security of British and international shipping in the Strait of Hormuz.

Hunt said Iran viewed this as a "tit-for-tat situation" after Britain seized an Iranian tanker in Gibraltar on suspicion of smuggling oil to Syria in breach of European Union sanctions.

Professor Alexander Gillespie, international law expert at the University of Waikato, fears war is "now more likely than not", following the Iranian seizure.

"Britain and America will likely see this as a clearly illegal action against the freedom of navigation, and hostage-taking. Moreover, if they don't step in now, the chances are it will get worse," he told Newshub.

"Trump, also, is not a man known for turning the other cheek. The fact that the Iranians now have a number of hostages will not deter a military strike."

He suspects New Zealand has already been invited to join a US-led coalition to safeguard waters around Iran.

Reuters / Newshub.