Tensions soar after Iran seizes tanker
An Iranian oil tanker has been “released” after being held “hostage” in Saudi Arabia since May 2, Iranian state media reports.
“Saudi Arabia has released an Iranian-flagged oil tanker named Happiness 1 nearly three months after it faced an engine failure and forced to seek repair at Jeddah port,” Press TV said in a statement.
Iranian lawmakers accused Saudi Arabia of taking the ship and its 26 crew members “hostage” after Saudi authorities responded to a distress call, Press TV reported earlier.
Saudi Arabia confirmed the rescue, saying the Jeddah coast guard had responded to a distress call from the ship due to “engine failure and loss of control,” Saudi state media said at the time.
Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif slammed "the new wave of aggressive US unilateralism" at a meeting of the Movement of Non-Aligned Nations in Caracas, Venezuela, on Saturday.
Speaking at the forum, Zarif said: "(The new unilateralism) is threatening the rule of law on a global level and menacing peace and stability across the world."
"The few Arab regimes who sidelined with this American unilateralism are not only committing a treason against the Palestinian people, they are also destabilizing the peace and security of the region, and their own security as well."
Zarif confirmed Iran's support for the Venezuelan government of embattled President Nicolas Maduro.
Zarif did not address the issue of a British-flagged oil tanker being seized by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps on Friday.
New video footage appears to show the moment the British-flagged Stena Impero tanker is seized by the Iranian navy in the Strait of Hormuz.
The UK emergency response team is meeting and the British government has called these actions by Iran “dangerous” and “illegal.”
Stena Bulk, the owners of the seized British-flagged Stena Impero tanker, released a statement saying the crew is in “good health.”
The parent company also says they are preparing a formal request to visit the crew to submit to Iranian authorities.
The latest statement posted on the Stena Bulk website reads:
“Our insurers in the region have been in contact with the Head of Marine Affairs at the Port of Bandar Abbas, who has reported that the crew members of our vessel Stena Impero are in ‘good health’ and that the tanker is at the nearby Bandar Bahonar anchorage.”
“The Head of Marine Affairs has asked a formal request be made for a visit to be arranged to the crew members and vessel. We can confirm this formal request is being prepared forthwith.”
“Our insurers have also advised that the Head of Marine Affairs has confirmed to them that no instructions have been received so far as to what will happen to the ship.”
Iran says the British-flagged Steno Impero tanker was using the exit lane to enter into the Strait of Hormuz, almost colliding with other vessels, state-run Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reported.
According to IRNA, Iranian General Ramazan Sharif said the vessel was being escorted by the British Royal Navy when it "violated maritime rules and regulations" by sailing into the Strait of Hormuz in the wrong direction.
The Iranian Navy seized the tanker at the request of the Ports and Maritime Organization of Iran’s Hormozgan province, the General went on to say, according to IRNA.
Iran’s semi-official Tasnim news agency reported the UK vessel was in "contravention of international regulations" by sailing into the Strait of Hormuz in the wrong direction and switching off its GPS tracker.
The tanker "was entering the Strait from the southern route which is an exit path, increasing the risk of accident," Tasnim news, an outlet close to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), reported
The US Maritime Administration, part of the Transportation Department, has issued an alert for vessels transiting the Strait of Hormuz as tensions escalate in the strategic waterway.
“Two vessels, United Kingdom and Liberian flagged, were harassed, boarded, and possibly seized by Iranian military personnel in these reported positions. These reports have been confirmed. Exercise caution when transiting this area.”
The notice said that Iran posed threats to US and international shipping in the Persian Gulf, Strait of Hormuz, Gulf of Oman, Arabian Sea and Red Sea.
Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif told British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt that "due process" must be followed in relation to the British tanker seized in the Strait of Hormuz, mirroring comments his counterpart made earlier this week.
In a call with Hunt, Zarif said Iran had acted on the official request of the Iranian Ports and Maritime Organization due to a "violation of rules" and that the case was now being "followed up by legal channels," Iranian state-run media reported. This, Zarif said, was markedly different to Britain's "illegal action" capturing an Iranian oil tanker in Gibraltar on July 4.
The comments mirror a statement Hunt made Thursday, that he was open to “resolving issues if due process in Gibraltar is observed and credible assurances received.”
The UK government is convening its second emergency meeting of national security officials in less than 24 hours to discuss the seizure of a British-flagged tanker in the Persian Gulf, a Downing Street spokeswoman has told CNN.
It has warned ships connected to the country's shipping industry to "stay out of the area" in the interim.
A Senior Russian lawmaker has claimed that the United States is “taking advantage” of tensions in the Persian Gulf in order to deploy more troops to the region.
“It is already clear who will be the first to take advantage of the escalated situation in the Strait of Hormuz and in the Middle East in general: The Pentagon has just approved the transfer of troops to Saudi Arabia," Russian senator Konstantin Kosachev said in a post on Facebook.
The Trump administration is reinforcing its controversial military relationship with Saudi Arabia by preparing to send hundreds of troops to the country amid increasing tensions with Iran, CNN learned Wednesday.
Five hundred troops are expected to go to the Prince Sultan Air Base, located in a desert area east of the Saudi capital of Riyadh, according to US two defense officials. A small number of troops and support personnel are already on site with initial preparations being made for a Patriot missile defense battery as well as runway and airfield improvements, the officials said.
The US has wanted to base troops there for some time because security assessments have shown Iranian missiles would have a difficult time targeting the remote area.
The decision comes as US and Saudi relations remain extremely sensitive amid bipartisan congressional anger how the administration handled the murder of Jamal Khashoggi.
But the Trump administration has said it is committed to trying to help protect Saudi Arabia against Iranian aggression.
"Neither Iran nor the United States, by and large, are interested in a real war," Kosachev wrote. "However, the ‘game of nerves’ and the raising of stakes will continue."