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British-flagged tanker docks in Dubai after Iran release

By AFP - Sep 29,2019 - Last updated at Sep 29,2019

The British-flagged oil tanker Stena Impero is docked in Dubai after sailing from the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas where it was held for over two months on Saturday (AFP photo)

DUBAI — The British-flagged oil tanker Stena Impero arrived in Dubai on Saturday, after being detained with its crew in Iran for more than two months in an incident that inflamed tensions in the region.

Iran's Revolutionary Guards seized the vessel in the Strait of Hormuz on July 19 after surrounding it with attack boats and rappelling onto its deck.

It was then impounded off the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas for allegedly failing to respond to distress calls and turning off its transponder after hitting a fishing boat.

But the seizure was widely seen as a tit-for-tat move after authorities in the British overseas territory of Gibraltar detained an Iranian tanker on suspicion it was shipping oil to Syria in breach of EU sanctions.

Tehran repeatedly denied the cases were related.

British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said, however, that the tanker was "unlawfully seized by Iran" as part of attempts to "disrupt freedom of navigation".

On Friday, the Stena Impero was finally cleared to sail from Iran and into international waters of the Gulf.

"Despite the vessel's clearance, its legal case is still open in Iran's courts," Hormozgan province's maritime organisation in southern Iran said on its website.

The tanker's captain and crew have "given a written, official statement that they have no claims", it added.

The ship docked at Port Rashid in Dubai on Saturday after halting off the coast of the emirate overnight, according to data from ship tracking website MarineTraffic.com. 

Pool reporters at the commercial port confirmed the ship had moored and the Swedish-owned vessel was seen surrounded by several small boats, including at least one flying the United Arab Emirates flag. 

 

‘High spirits’ 

 

The CEO of Stena Bulk, the firm that owns the vessel, had said the ship’s sailing was “obviously a relief” and that the priority was those on board. Seven of its 23 crew members were released on September 4.

“When we reach Dubai we will firstly take care of the crew and then try and get the ship in operational order again,” Erik Hanell told AFP on Friday.

The tanker’s crew are “safe and in high spirits” and arrangements had been made for them to return to their families upon arrival in Dubai, he said.

“The crew will have a period of time to be with their families following 10 weeks of detainment on the vessel. Full support will be offered to the crew and families in the coming weeks to assist with their recovery.”

Photos released by the Iranian agency Fars News on Saturday showed the black and red-hulled tanker sailing from Bandar Abbas in southern Iran the previous day. 

The images also showed the captain apparently signing the ship’s release documents before it left port, and the crew — dressed in red overalls and safety gear — lifting anchor ahead of the journey.

 

Gulf tensions 

 

Tensions have risen in the Gulf since May last year when US President Donald Trump unilaterally abandoned a 2015 nuclear deal between major powers and Iran and began reimposing crippling sanctions in a campaign of “maximum pressure”.

They flared again this May when Iran began reducing its own commitments under the deal and the US deployed military assets to the region.

Since then, ships have been attacked, drones downed and oil tankers seized.

In June, Trump called off air strikes against Iran at the last minute after the Islamic republic’s forces shot down a US drone.

This month, twin attacks on Saudi oil infrastructure, which knocked out half the kingdom’s production, drew accusations of blame against Iran not only from the US but also from its European allies.

Tehran has denied any involvement in the attacks, which were claimed by Iran-backed rebels fighting a Saudi-led coalition in Yemen.

The US has since formed a coalition with its allies Australia, Bahrain, Britain, Saudi Arabia and the UAE to escort commercial shipping in the Gulf.

Tehran has warned that the planned US-led International Maritime Security Construct will cause more, not less instability. It has proposed a rival security plan of its own.

Speaking at the UN General Assembly in New York, President Hassan Rouhani this week announced a plan dubbed the “Hormuz Peace Endeavour” or “HOPE”.

He gave no details but called on all of Iran’s Gulf neighbours to join, saying: “Security cannot be provided with American weapons and intervention.”

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