Updated 5:50 a.m. July 20, 2019.
Agence France-Presse contributed to this report.
GENEVA — Iran has taken a British-flagged oil tanker it seized in the Strait of Hormuz to Bandar Abbas port, where it and its crew will remain while an investigation into the vessel’s conduct is carried out, Iran’s Fars news agency said Saturday.
The Stena Impero was in an accident with an Iranian fishing boat whose distress call it ignored, the agency quoted the head of Ports and Maritime Organization in southern Hormozgan province, Allahmorad Afifipour, as saying.
It was taken to Bander Abbas, on Iran’s southern coast and facing the strait.
“All its 23 crew members will remain on the ship until the probe is over,” Afifipour said. The crew is made up of 18 Indian nationals and five others of other nationalities, he said.
The tanker’s operator, Stena Bulk, said Friday the ship had been “in full compliance with all navigation and international regulations,” but was no longer under the crew’s control and could not be contacted.
Britain’s foreign minister Jeremy Hunt said Saturday that he was worried Iran had taken a “dangerous path” after it seized a British-flagged tanker on Friday.
“Yesterday’s action in Gulf shows worrying signs Iran may be choosing a dangerous path of illegal and destabilizing behavior after Gibraltar’s LEGAL detention of oil bound for Syria,” Hunt said Twitter.
“As I said yesterday our reaction will be considered but robust. We have been trying to find a way to resolve Grace1 issue but WILL ensure the safety of our shipping.”
Also Saturday London advised British ships to avoid the Strait of Hormuz for “an interim period” following Iran’s seizure of a British-flagged oil tanker.
“We remain deeply concerned about Iran’s unacceptable actions which represent a clear challenge to international freedom of navigation,” a government spokeswoman said following an overnight meeting of the government’s COBRA emergencies committee to discuss the crisis.
“We have advised UK shipping to stay out of the area for an interim period.”
The British navy seized Iran’s Grace 1 tanker in Gibraltar on July 4 on suspicion of smuggling oil to Syria in breach of European Union sanctions.
No one was immediately available for comment at the Foreign Office early Saturday.
The vessel had been heading to a port in Saudi Arabia and suddenly changed course after passing through the strait at the mouth of the Gulf, through which a fifth of the world’s oil supplies pass.
Already strained relations between Iran and the West have become increasingly fraught since the British navy seized Iran’s Grace 1 tanker in Gibraltar July 4 on suspicion of smuggling oil to Syria in breach of EU sanctions.
Hunt warned of “serious consequences” if the Stena Impero’s situation was not resolved quickly. Britain was however “not looking at military options. We are looking at a diplomatic way to resolve the situation,” he told reporters.
U.S. President Donald Trump said he would talk to Britain about Friday’s seizure, which drove oil prices up above $62 a barrel.
The United States has blamed Iran for a series of attacks since mid-May on shipping around the Strait of Hormuz. Tehran rejects the allegations.
Blunder into war
The incidents have increased international concern that both sides could blunder into a war in the strategic waterway.
The United States is sending military personnel and resources to Saudi Arabia for the first time since the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 in response to the escalating tensions.
Relations between Washington and Tehran worsened last year when Trump abandoned a 2015 nuclear deal between world powers and Iran. Under the pact, Iran agreed to restrict nuclear work, long seen by the West as a cover for developing atomic bombs, in return for lifting sanctions. But sanctions have been imposed again, badly hurting Iran’s economy.