Tensions soar after Iran seizes tanker

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4:16 p.m. ET, July 20, 2019

UK foreign secretary says Iran sees seized tankers as tit for tat

In a statement after the ministerial COBRA meeting, UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said that Iran sees the seizing of tankers in the Strait of Hormuz as a “tit-for-tat situation,” following the detention in Gibraltar of the Iranian tanker Grace 1. Hunt said in the statement he had a “fairly long conversation” with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif.

“Nothing could be further from the truth,” Hunt said. “Grace 1 was detained legally in Gibraltarian waters because it was carrying oil against EU sanctions, to Syria, and that’s why Gibraltarian authorities acted totally with respect to due process and totally within the law.”

“Our priority continues to be to find a way to de-escalate the situation. That’s why I reached out to the Iranian foreign minister, that’s why due process in Gibraltar continues. But, we need to see due process happening in Iran as well. We need to see the illegal seizing of a British-flagged vessel reversed, we need that ship released, and we continue to be very concerned about the safety and welfare of the 23 crew members,” he continued.

Read Hunt's full statement below:

I had a fairly long conversation with the Iranian Foreign Minister, Javad Zarif, this afternoon. And it’s clear from talking to him and also statements made by Iran that they see this as a tit-for-tat situation, following Grace 1 being detained in Gibraltar. Nothing could be further from the truth. Grace 1 was detained legally in Gibraltarian waters because it was carrying oil against EU sanctions, to Syria, and that’s why Gibraltarian authorities acted totally with respect to due process and totally within the law.
The Stena Impero was seized in Omani waters in clear contravention of international law. It was then forced to sail into Iran. This is totally and utterly unacceptable.
It raises very serious questions about the security of British shipping and indeed international shipping in the Straits of Hormuz. And so, we spent a long time this afternoon in COBR discussing how we can guarantee the security of British and international shipping. A statement will be made to Parliament on Monday to update the House of Commons and the country on the measures that we are going to take, the further measures. But already this weekend we have raised the threat level to level three – that was a decision made by the Transport Secretary. But we will take further measures and announce those measures going forward on Monday.
Our priority continues to be to find a way to de-escalate the situation. That’s why I reached out to the Iranian Foreign Minister, that’s why due process in Gibraltar continues. But, we need to see due process happening in Iran as well. We need to see the illegal seizing of a British-flagged vessel reversed, we need that ship released, and we continue to be very concerned about the safety and welfare of the 23 crew members.
3:47 p.m. ET, July 20, 2019

British Airways suspends flights to Cairo after UK officials warn of "risk of terrorism against aviation"

British Airways has suspended flights to Cairo for seven days “as a precaution to allow for further assessment,” the UK airline said in a statement.

“The safety and security of our customers and crew is always our priority, and we would never operate an aircraft unless it was safe to do so,” the airline added in the statement.

This measure from the British airline comes after tensions escalated in the Persian Gulf between the United Kingdom and Iran over the seized British-flagged Steno Impero tanker.

The UK Foreign Office updated its advice to citizens traveling to Egypt, stating on its website, “There’s a heightened risk of terrorism against aviation. Additional security measures are in place for flights departing from Egypt to the UK.”

Read the full statement from British Airways below:

We constantly review our security arrangements at all our airports around the world, and have suspended flights to Cairo for seven days as a precaution to allow for further assessment.
The safety and security of our customers and crew is always our priority, and we would never operate an aircraft unless it was safe to do so.
3:43 p.m. ET, July 20, 2019

Iranian oil tanker Happiness I "released" from Saudi Arabia, state media reports

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.

3:18 p.m. ET, July 20, 2019

Iran official denounces US "unilateralism," does not speak about seized tanker

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.

2:28 p.m. ET, July 20, 2019

See moment Iran seizes British-flagged tanker

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.”

1:21 p.m. ET, July 20, 2019

Tanker parent company says crew in "good health"

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.”
12:32 p.m. ET, July 20, 2019

Iran says UK tanker wrongly used exit lane to enter into Strait of Hormuz

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

12:10 p.m. ET, July 20, 2019

US issues maritime alert for Strait of Hormuz

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.

12:10 p.m. ET, July 20, 2019

Iranian Foreign Minister: "Due process" required for seized tanker

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.”