Wednesday 21 August 2019

Iran offers swap deal for seized oil tankers

A screen grab shows a member of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard onboard a tanker Stena Impero. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
A screen grab shows a member of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard onboard a tanker Stena Impero. Photo: AFP/Getty Images

Nasser Karimi

President Hassan Rouhani has suggested Iran might release a UK-flagged ship if Britain takes similar steps to release an Iranian oil tanker seized off Gibraltar earlier this month.

His remarks could create an opening to reduce tensions as Boris Johnson becomes UK prime minister. It is unclear how the new UK government will respond to the suggestion or the impasse with Iran.

"We do not seek the continuation of tension with some European countries," Mr Rouhani said on his website.

"Should they be committed to international frameworks and give up their wrong actions, including what they did in Gibraltar, they will receive a proportional response from Iran."

Britain this week announced plans to develop and deploy a Europe-led "maritime protection mission" to safeguard shipping in the area after Iran's Revolutionary Guard seized the Stena Impero in the Strait of Hormuz on Friday.

Mr Rouhani said that while Iran does not seek a military conflict, it will not allow threats to its security in the waterway. He described the Iranian seizure of the ship as "professional and brave".

Tehran officials have alleged the ship was seized after it violated international maritime law by turning off its signalling for longer than is allowed and passing through the wrong channels.

However, they have also suggested the ship was seized in response to Britain's role in impounding an Iranian supertanker two weeks earlier off the coast of Gibraltar. The UK says the tanker was suspected of violating sanctions on oil shipments to Syria.

Both sides have called the interception of one another's ships "hostile acts" and "piracy".

Stena Bulk, the owner of the ship seized by Iran, said it made first contact on Tuesday with the crew of 23. The company said the ship's master advised "that everyone was safe with good co-operation with the Iranian personnel on board".

The crew are mostly Indian, but also include Filipino, Russian and Latvian nationals. Iranian state TV aired video of the crew on board the vessel off Iran's port of Bandar Abbas.

A spate of incidents has threatened security in the Strait of Hormuz, between Iran and Oman. Tensions have also soared following US President Donald Trump's decision last year to withdraw from the nuclear deal and impose full sanctions on Iran.

One-fifth of global crude oil passes through the strait, making it an internationally important bottleneck for global energy supplies.

In past weeks, Iran has shot down a US spy drone, American officials say military cyberforces struck Iranian computer systems that handle missile and rocket launchers, and six oil tankers have been sabotaged.

Iranian officials yesterday reiterated their denial that any Iranian drones were intercepted, after the US military said on Tuesday that it took aim at two of them last week.

Irish Independent

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