The Adrian Darya’s detention and later release by Gibraltar have added fuel to the growing tensions between Washington and Tehran, after Trump unilaterally withdrew America from Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers over a year ago over concerns about Iran’s ballistic missile program and regional influence.
Somewhere on its journey from the waters off Iran, around Africa’s southern tip and into the Mediterranean, the Grace 1 oil tanker lost the flag under which it sailed and ceased to be registered to Panama. Iran later claimed it as its own. The ship carrying 2 million barrels of Iranian crude was seized by British Royal Marines off Gibraltar, raising tensions in the Gulf where Iran detained a UK-flagged ship in retaliation. Grace 1 remains impounded, not because of its flag but because it was suspected of taking oil to Syria in breach of EU sanctions, an allegation that Iran denies. Yet Panama’s move on May 29 to strike it from its register mid-voyage was part of a global squeeze on Iranian shipping. Nations that register vessels under so-called “flags of convenience” allowing them to sail legally have de-listed dozens of tankers owned by Iran in recent months, tightening the economic noose around it. In the biggest cull, Panama, the world’s most important flag state, removed 59 tankers linked to Iran and Syria earlier this year, a decision welcomed by the United States which wants to cut off Tehran’s vital oil exports. Panama and some other key flag states are looking more closely at the thousands of ships on their registers to ensure they comply with U.S. sanctions that were re-imposed against Iran last year and tightened further since. A Reuters analysis of shipping registry data shows that Panama has de-listed around 55 Iranian tankers since January, Togo has
British Prime Minister Theresa May chaired an emergency security session on Monday to discuss how to respond to Iran’s seizure of a British-flagged tanker in the Strait of Hormuz. The meeting of security ministers and officials discussed how to secure shipping in the sensitive region, which is vital to the world’s oil supply. Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt plans to brief Parliament on the Friday seizure of the Stena Impero tanker and its crew of 23, now in a heavily guarded Iranian port. Also on Monday, Iran released new video showing the ship’s crew for the first time, an apparent attempt to show they were unharmed. None of the 23 are British nationals but are mostly Indian and also Filipino, Russian and Latvian nationals. May’s official spokesman, James Slack, said Iran has seized a ship under false and illegal pretenses and it needs to release it and its crew immediately. He said giving an individual naval escort to all U.K.-flagged ships is not an option because of the volume of traffic. But he denied cuts have made the Royal Navy too small. “We have the largest military budget in Europe, and we are investing in a world-class Royal Navy,” he said. Britain is considering a number of options to raise the economic and diplomatic pressure on Iran but officials say military operations are not being considered at the moment. Britain is also seeking support from key European allies in an effort to keep the Strait of Hormuz open to shipping. The
Iran’s seizure of a British oil tanker was a response to Britain’s role in impounding an Iranian supertanker first, senior officials said Saturday, as newly released video of the incident showed Iranian commandos in black ski masks and fatigues rappelling from a helicopter onto the vessel in the strategic Strait of Hormuz. The seizure prompted condemnation from the U.K. and its European allies as they continue to call for a de-escalation of tensions in the critical waterway. U.K. Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said Britain’s response to Iran’s seizure of a British-flagged ship in the Strait of Hormuz “will be considered but robust.” In comments on Twitter on Saturday, he said he spoke with Iran’s foreign minister and expressed extreme disappointment that the Iranian diplomat had assured him Iran wanted to de-escalate the situation but “they have behaved in the opposite way.” He wrote: “This has (to) be about actions not words if we are to find a way through. British shipping must & will be protected.” The free flow of traffic through the Strait of Hormuz is of international importance because one-fifth of all global crude exports passes through the waterway from Mideast exporters to countries around the world. The narrow waterway sits between Iran and Oman. The British-flagged Stena Impero was intercepted late Friday by Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guard forces. The ship’s owner, Stena Bulk, said the vessel was stopped by “unidentified small crafts and a helicopter” during its transit through the Strait of Hormuz. The vessel was seized