Iran’s Revolutionary Guards said yesterday they had confiscated a British tanker in the Strait of Hormuz for breaking “international maritime rules” as tensions mount in the highly sensitive waterway.
Britain however said Iran had seized two ships in the Gulf, incidents Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt condemned as “unacceptable”.
The latest incident came as President Donald Trump insisted yesterday that the military had downed an Iranian drone that was threatening a US naval vessel in the Strait of Hormuz, despite denials from Tehran.
The Stena Impero tanker “was confiscated by the Revolutionary Guards at the request of Hormozgan Ports and Maritime Organisation when passing through the Strait of Hormuz, for failing to respect international maritime rules,” the Guards’ official website Sepahnews said.
The UK-flagged tanker “was led to the shore and handed over to the organisation to go through the legal procedure and required investigations,” it said.
Tanker tracking service Marine Traffic showed that the Swedish-owned Stena Impero last signalled its location near the Island of Larak in the highly sensitive waterway at 9:00pm local time (1630 GMT).
The Stena Impero’s Swedish owner said the ship was transiting the Strait of Hormuz and in “international waters” when it was “attacked by unidentified small crafts and a helicopter”.
“We are presently unable to contact the vessel which is now tracking as heading north towards Iran,” a statement said.
Hunt said he was “extremely concerned by the seizure of two naval vessels by Iranian authorities in the Strait of Hormuz” — through which nearly a third of the world’s oil is transported.
“These seizures are unacceptable,” said Hunt.
Britain confirmed that one of the boats seized was British-registered.
The other was Liberian-flagged, but reportedly owned by British company Norbulk Shipping.
There was no immediate confirmation from Iran that its forces had seized a second vessel.
The incident came hours after Gibraltar’s Supreme Court said it would extend by 30 days the detention of an Iranian tanker seized two weeks ago on allegations that it was heading to Syria in violation of sanctions.
British authorities’ detention of the Grace 1 supertanker sparked outrage in Tehran, with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei accused London of “piracy” and vowing retaliation.
Tensions in the Gulf have soared in recent weeks, with Trump calling off air strikes against Iran at the last minute in June, after Tehran downed an American drone, and blaming Iran for a series of tanker attacks — charges the Islamic Republic denies.
Hours before the latest tanker incident, Iran and the US were caught in a new war of words.
Trump said on Thursday that Washington brought down an Iranian drone that was threatening the an American vessel, the USS Boxer in the Strait of Hormuz.
Yesterday he reiterated his claim.
Iran categorically denied the allegation and deputy foreign minister Abbas Araghchi tweeted that American forces may have shot down a US drone by mistake.
“No doubt about it, no — we shot it down,” Trump said yesterday, and he warned Iran against doing anything “foolish,” saying it would pay a heavy price if it did so.
Trump’s National Security Adviser John Bolton said there was “no question that this was an Iranian drone”.
The Revolutionary Guards released a video yesterday which they said belies the US claims.
The seven-minute-long footage, apparently shot from high altitude, shows a convoy of ships which the Guards said they were tracking as they passed through the Strait of Hormuz.
The vessels in the footage could not be immediately identified, although one looks similar to the USS Boxer.
Earlier a US official said Washington has “very clear evidence” that it downed the drone but gave no further details. “If you fly too close to our ships, you’re going to get shot down,” the official said.
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