UK wrongly accuses Iran of seizing second tanker

The Stena Impero.
The Stena Impero. Photo credit: Reuters

Britain wrongly said Iran seized two oil tankers in the Gulf on Friday, telling Tehran to return the vessels or face consequences in the latest confrontation to ratchet up tension along a vital international oil shipping route.

Iran's Revolutionary Guards said they had captured the British-flagged Stena Impero, announcing the move two weeks after the British navy seized an Iranian tanker in Gibraltar.

Iran's semi-official Tasnim news agency said the second vessel, the British-operated Mesdar, had not been seized. It said the ship had been allowed to continue its course after being given a warning over safety and environmental issues.

The company has since confirmed Iran's version of events.

"Communication has been re-established with the vessel and Master confirmed that the armed guards have left and the vessel is free to continue the voyage. All crew are safe and well," said Glasgow-based Norbulk Shipping UK.

"Despite reports, the ship has not been seized... and was allowed to continue its course after being warned about safety issues by Iranian forces," Tasnim said, quoting regional military sources.

The Stena Impero and Mesdar changed direction sharply within 40 minutes of each other shortly after entering the Gulf through the Strait of Hormuz, taking up a course toward Iran, Refinitiv tracking data showed.

The data later showed Mesdar changing direction again, heading westward back into the Gulf.

A statement from the owner of the Stena Impero vessel and the ship's manager confirmed that it was seized by "small crafts and a helicopter" at 4pm London time and was currently headed north towards Iran.

"We are presently unable to contact the vessel," a statement from Stena Bulk and Northern Marine Management said.

British foreign minister Jeremy Hunt said, in comments reported by Sky News, that there would be consequences if Iran did not return control of the ships but said Britain was not considering military options.

US President Donald Trump said he would talk to Britain about the issue, speaking after a war of words earlier on Friday about whether the United States had shot down an Iranian drone in the Strait of Hormuz.

Already strained relations between Iran and the West have become increasingly fraught since the British navy seized Iran's Grace 1 tanker in Gibraltar on July 4 on suspicion of smuggling oil to Syria in breach of European Union sanctions.

Oil prices LCOc1 gained on Friday after the latest spike in tensions along the Strait of Hormuz, through which a fifth of the world's oil supplies pass.

Reuters / Newshub.