Less than 24 hours after Donald Trump announced that the US Navy downed an Iranian drone near the Strait of Hormuz, the IRGC said it captured a British tanker.
“The Stena Impero 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 said. Iran says the vessel is “empty” and had an “incident with another ship”.
Shortly thereafter, Tehran confirmed the IRGC seized a second tanker, the Mesdar, which was seen leaving Iranian waters about an hour later.
“I will shortly attend a COBR meeting to review what we know and what we can do to swiftly secure the release of the two vessels”, UK foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt said. “Their crews comprise a range of nationalities, but we understand there are no British citizens on board either ship”, he added, on the way to calling the seizures “unacceptable”.
Since Trump told the public about the drone incident on Thursday, conflicting reports have circulated as to precisely what happened. Complicating matters further were remarks from Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif who, speaking at one of the only three places he’s allowed in the US, told reporters on Thursday that Iran had extended a “substantial” offer to Trump. Zarif’s overture came on the heels of multiple interviews with the American media and amid reports that the Trump administration was prepared to let Senator Rand Paul try to strike some kind of agreement with the Iranians to deescalate the situation.
Suffice to say things are now back on the brink. Here’s the official statement on the Stena Impero:
Stena Bulk and Northern Marine Management can confirm that at approximately 1600 BST on 19th July UK registered vessel Stena Impero (built 2018, 49,683 DWT) was approached by unidentified small crafts and a helicopter during transit of the Strait of Hormuz while the vessel was in international waters.
We are presently unable to contact the vessel which is now heading north towards Iran
There are 23 seafarers aboard. There have been no reported injuries and their safety is of primary concern to both owners and managers. The priority of both vessel owner Stena Bulk and ship manager Northern Marine Management is the safety and welfare of the crew.
Northern Marine Management has not been able to establish contact directly with the vessel since it was notified of the incident at approximately 1600 Today, 19th July 2019.
We are in close contact with UK government authorities.
This of course comes hot on the heels of the July 10 confrontation between the Royal Navy and IRGC crafts which attempted to stop the BP-operated British Heritage from passing through the Strait.
Ultimately, The HMS Montrose positioned itself between the Iranian vessels and the Heritage, and that was the end of that. But, the episode suggested that Iran was prepared to act on a threat delivered earlier this month by former IRGC chief Mohsen Rezaei, who suggested that Iran respond to the seizure of the Grace 1 off Gibraltar. “If England does not release the Iranian oil tanker [our duty] is to respond and seize one English oil tanker”, he said.
Now, it appears the IRGC has made good on that threat.
“We are aware of reports that Iranian boats seized a British oil tanker”, Garrett Marquis, spokesman for the National Security Council at the White House, told the press in an e-mail. “This is the second time in just over a week the UK has been the target of escalatory violence by the Iranian regime”, he added. “The US will continue to work with our allies and partners to defend our security and interests against Iran’s malign behavior”.
Trump spoke to his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron over the phone today about Iran. The two leaders discussed the “ongoing efforts to ensure the country does not obtain a nuclear weapon and United States’ concerns with France’s proposed digital services tax”, the White House said in statement.
“I will be working with the UK”, Trump told reporters Friday afternoon, commenting on the situation with the tankers.
Earlier Friday, Gibraltar said it would extend the detention of the Grace 1 for at least a month. That could have played into the seizure of the Stena Impero.