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Iran releasing seven crew from British ship for humanitarian reasons

Stena Impero (Morteza Akhoondi/WikiCommons)
September 04, 2019

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

Iran says it is freeing seven crew members it detained after seizing the British tanker Stena Impero nearly two months ago.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Musavi said in a September 4 interview with Iranian state TV that the seven Russian and Indian nationals are being released on humanitarian grounds and could leave the country soon.

He added that the seven were chosen by the ship’s captain.

The Stena Impero’s 23 sailors are of Indian, Russian, Latvian, and Filipino nationality and the 16 remaining crew members will stay on board to operate the ship once it leaves, the Swedish company Stena Bulk, which owns the vessel, said.

“We are very pleased that for seven crew members their ordeal may soon be over, and they may return to their families, however we cautiously await official confirmation of their release date,” Erik Hanell, Stena Bulk’s president and chief executive, said in a statement on September 4.

“We view this communication as a positive step on the way to the release of all the remaining crew, which has always been our primary concern and focus.”

Tensions have risen between London and Tehran since British Royal Marines seized an Iranian oil tanker, which has since been renamed the Adrian Darya, on July 4 off Gibraltar on suspicion it was carrying oil to Syria in violation of EU sanctions.

Following the British action, Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) stormed and detained the British-flagged Stena Impero and its 23 crew members as they sailed through the Strait of Hormuz on July 20.

The Adrian Darya was eventually allowed to leave after giving assurances that it would not travel to Syria. It is now somewhere in the Mediterranean Sea.

These and other shipping disputes have come amid rising a war of words between Iran and the West, particularly the United States, and have included several additional incidents in and around the Persian Gulf, which sees around one-fifth of international oil shipments.

U.S. President Donald Trump has called for an international effort to escort vessels to defend commercial shipping interests in the gulf against harassment and illegal interference, meeting with support from the Britain and from some other Western and gulf state officials.

Washington blames Iran or Iranian-linked proxies for a series of attacks on shipping in the world’s most important oil-transit route in the past two months. Tehran has denied the accusations.