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Swedish owner says seized UK-flagged tanker now on move from Iranian port

Stena Impero (Morteza Akhoondi/WikiCommons)
September 27, 2019

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

A British-flagged oil tanker that was seized by Iran in July has reached international waters after being released by Tehran, its Swedish owner said on September 27.

The Stena Impero, which had been held off Bandar Abbas for more than two months, started moving out of the Iranian port earlier in the day.

“She reached international waters about 15 minutes ago,” Erik Hanell, CEO of the company that owns the vessel, Stena Bulk, told the media at 12 p.m. local time, adding that the ship was heading for Dubai.

Hanell earlier confirmed the release of the vessel in a statement on the company’s website.

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“Stena Bulk and Northern Marine Management confirm the Stena Impero and its crew have been released,” Stena Bulk CEO Erik Hanell said in a statement.

“The vessel has left the port of Bandar Abbas and is transiting to Dubai for the crew to disembark and receive medical checks and de-briefing,” Hanell said.

“The families of crew members have been informed and the Company is currently making arrangements for the repatriation of its valued seafarers at the earliest possible opportunity,” he added.

Iran’s marine and port authority confirmed in a statement on September 27 that the oil tanker had left Iran.

Following the release, of the vessel, British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said his country would cooperate with its overseas partners to protect shipping and uphold international laws.

“The Stena Impero was unlawfully seized by Iran. It is part of a pattern of attempts to disrupt freedom of navigation. We are working with our international partners to protect shipping and uphold the international rule of law,” Raab said.

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.

The operator and owner of the 183-meter-long, 50,000-deadweight-ton Stena Impero vehemently denied Tehran’s accusations.

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

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 on July 19.

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

The Gibraltar and Hormuz seizures came with tensions already ratcheted up by confrontations between Western and Iranian naval and commercial ships in the strategic 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 Gulf against harassment and illegal interference, with support from Australia, Britain, and other Western and Gulf states.