Iran’s Revolutionary Guard said it captured British oil tanker Stena Impero in the Persian Gulf on Friday after Britain seized an Iranian vessel earlier this month, further raising tensions along a vital international oil shipping route.
Britain said Iran’s seizure of the Stena Impero — as well as a Liberian-flagged vessel in the Strait of Hormuz — was unacceptable and called for freedom of navigation in the Gulf.
“I’m extremely concerned by the seizure of two vessels by Iranian authorities in the Strait of Hormuz,” Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said, adding that he was about to attend a national security meeting “to review what we know and what we can do to swiftly secure the release of the two vessels.”
“It is essential that freedom of navigation is maintained and that all ships can move safely and freely in the region.”
Stena Bulk and Northern Marine Management said in a statement that the British vessel was approached by unidentified small craft and a helicopter while the vessel was in international waters in the strait.
“We are presently unable to contact the vessel, which is now heading north towards Iran,” the statement read.
The Revolutionary Guard’s website, sepahnews.com, said the tanker was seized Friday by Revolutionary Guard forces for “non-compliance with international maritime laws and regulations” and has transferred the vessel to an Iranian port.
The report did not elaborate what port it was transferred to. IRNA, Iran’s state news agency, said the tanker had turned off its tracker and ignored warnings.
There are 23 people aboard and there have been no reported injuries, according to the statement from Stena Bulk and Northern Marine Management.
“The priority of both vessel owner Stena Bulk and ship manager Northern Marine Management is the safety and welfare of the crew,” the statement read.
Hunt said Britain’s ambassador in Tehran was in contact with the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs to resolve the situation and that Britain was working closely with international partners, while U.S. President Donald Trump said he would talk to Britain about the situation.
“The U.S. will continue to work with our allies and partners to defend our security and interests against Iran’s malign behaviour,” White House national security council spokesperson Garrett Marquis said.
Earlier, Britain said it was urgently seeking further information after the tanker, which had been heading to a port in Saudi Arabia, suddenly changed course after passing through the Strait of Hormuz at the mouth of the Gulf.
“We condemn unreservedly the capture of Stena Impero as she transited the Strait of Hormuz earlier today,” Bob Sanguinetti, the chief executive of the U.K. Chamber of Shipping, said in a statement.
“This incident represents an escalation. Whilst we call for measured response, it is also clear that further protection for merchant vessels must be forthcoming to ensure enhanced security to guarantee free flow of trade in the region.”
Relations between Iran and the West have been increasingly strained after Britain seized an Iranian tanker in Gibraltar on suspicion of smuggling oil to Syria in breach of European Union sanctions.
Refinitiv data on its movements showed it had been en route to Jubail in Saudi Arabia.
Another map tracking the location of the Stena Impero showed it making a sharp turn in the Strait of Hormuz, at the southern entrance to the Gulf, and heading toward Iranian waters.
U.S., Iran disputing drone incident
Tehran and Washington, meanwhile, continued to spar Friday over Trump’s claim that a U.S. warship destroyed an Iranian drone near the Persian Gulf in another escalation of tensions between the two countries.
The Iranian military said all its drones had returned safely to their bases, and denied there was any confrontation with a U.S. vessel the previous day.
“We have not lost any drone in the Strait of Hormuz nor anywhere else,” tweeted Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi.
Trump fired back on Friday from the Oval office, saying: “No doubt about it. We shot it down.”
A senior Trump administration said earlier during a briefing that the U.S. has “clear evidence” that it shot down a drone on Thursday and warned it will destroy any Iranian drones that fly too closely to its ships.
Later Friday, Iran’s state television aired footage that it said disproved Trump’s assertion.
The video, published by the Revolutionary Guards, showed aerial views of warships. The television station said the drone had captured the footage, and timing notations showed the drone was still filming after Washington said it had been downed in the Strait of Hormuz.
Watch the footage Iran says disproves U.S. claim:
The strategically vital strait is at the mouth of the Persian Gulf and serves as the passageway for one-fifth of all global crude exports. Oil prices ticked upward Friday on the news.
Trump on Thursday said the USS Boxer took defensive action after an Iranian drone closed to within about 900 metres of the warship and ignored multiple calls to stand down.
Trump blamed Iran for “provocative and hostile” action, and said the U.S. responded in self defence.
Neither Trump nor the Pentagon spelled out how the Boxer destroyed the drone. CNN reported the ship used electronic jamming to bring it down rather than hitting it with a missile.
The Revolutionary Guard said the Iranian drone on Thursday had been carrying out regular surveillance when the USS Boxer arrived, and it sent back images of the ship before and after the time the U.S. claimed the aircraft was destroyed.
The Guard said its forces continue to carefully monitor all movements of foreigners — especially “the terrorist forces” of the U.S. and the British in the strait and the Gulf.
Iranian lawmaker Hossein Naghavi Hosseini, spokesperson of the parliamentary committee on national security and foreign policy, said Friday that, with Trump’s allegations, “America plans to create tensions and psychological warfare in the region and in Iran, and hide its failures.”
His remarks were carried by the ISNA news agency.
After Trump pulled the U.S. out of the Iran nuclear deal last year and imposed economic sanctions on Tehran, the Iranians pushed back on the military front, shooting down a U.S. drone on June 20.
Trump said he had ordered a retaliatory military strike, but called it off at the last moment because the risk of casualties was disproportionate to the downing by Iran, which did not cost any U.S. lives.
Adding to the economic pressure on Tehran, the U.S. Treasury Department said Thursday it was imposing sanctions on what it called a network of front companies and agents involved in helping Iran buy sensitive materials for its nuclear program. It said the targeted individuals and entities are based in Iran, China and Belgium.
Iran Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif suggested in New York as he arrived for a meeting at the United Nations that Iran could immediately ratify an agreement to allow broader inspections of its nuclear facilities by UN inspectors if the U.S. dropped its sanctions.
China urged Washington to consider the offer, calling it “a positive signal that Iran is willing to seek a compromise solution.”
The Pentagon said Thursday’s incident happened in international waters while the Boxer was entering the Gulf. The Boxer is among several U.S. navy ships in the area, including the USS Abraham Lincoln, an aircraft carrier that has been operating in the North Arabian Sea for weeks in response to rising tensions.
The Iranians and Americans have had close encounters in the Strait of Hormuz in the past, and it is not unprecedented for Iran to fly a drone near a U.S. warship.
‘Brink of an abyss’
Iran claimed the U.S. drone violated its airspace; the Pentagon denied this.
Zarif, speaking to U.S.-based media on the sidelines of his visit to the UN on Thursday, said, “We live in a very dangerous environment. The United States has pushed itself and the rest of the world into probably the brink of an abyss.”
Zarif blamed Washington for the escalation, and accused the Trump administration of “trying to starve our people” and “deplete our treasury” through economic sanctions.
Earlier Thursday, Iran said the Revolutionary Guard seized a foreign oil tanker and its crew of 12 for smuggling fuel out of the country, and hours later released video showing the vessel to be a United Arab Emirates-based ship that had vanished in Iranian waters over the weekend.
The announcement cleared up the fate of the missing ship but raised a host of other questions and heightened worries about the free flow of traffic in the Strait of Hormuz.