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Iran close to releasing British-flagged tanker

Stena Impero (Morteza Akhoondi/WikiCommons)
September 23, 2019

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

Iran says the legal steps required for the release of the British-flagged oil tanker it seized along with its crew in July have been completed.

An Iranian government spokesman said on September 23 that while the vessel was now free to go, he did not know the exact timing of when it would set sail.

“The legal process has finished and based on that the conditions for letting the oil tanker go free have been fulfilled and the oil tanker can move,” government spokesman Ali Rabiei told a news conference.

The move comes a day after Iranian President Hassan Rohani appeared to try to wrest some diplomatic initiative over security in the region, saying he would take an Iranian plan for Gulf security to the United Nations.

There were 23 crew members of Indian, Russian, Latvian, and Filipino nationalities aboard the Stena Impero when it was seized in the Strait of Hormuz.

Seven of them were released in early September, while the others have reportedly remained aboard the ship off Bandar Abbas.

Iranian authorities accused the Stena Impero and its crew of failing to observe international maritime law at the time of its seizure on July 19, two weeks after British forces near Gibraltar captured an Iranian oil tanker that has since been released and renamed the Adrian Darya 1.

It is a charge that has been adamantly rejected by the owner and operator of the 183-meter-long Stena Impero.

The Gibraltar and Hormuz seizures came with tensions already ratcheted up by confrontations between Western and Iranian naval and commercial ships in the strategic Persian Gulf region that is a conduit for around one-fifth of the world’s oil supplies.

U.S. President Donald Trump has launched a naval escort campaign to defend commercial shipping interests in the Persian Gulf against harassment and illegal interference, with support from Australia, Britain, and other Western and Gulf states.

Tehran has denied accusations of harassment and repeatedly warned that outside presences in the region bring instability and insecurity, most recently in a televised speech to the nation by Rohani on September 22 that included word of his plan for Gulf security and cooperation.

World leaders gather this week in New York for the 74th UN General Assembly, which begins on September 24.