Britain voices 'disappointment' as Iran doubles down on seized tanker

LONDON/TEHRAN, Farshid Motahari (dpa)- Britain and Iran's worsening row over seized oil tankers showed no sign of letting up on Saturday as the countries' top diplomats emerged from a phone call as adversarial as ever.
British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt wrote on Twitter that he "expressed extreme disappointment" to Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif for not moving to de-escalate the situation.

For his part, Zarif said, "The seizure of the British tanker was due to maritime violations and requested by the relevant port authorities," as reported by Iranian state media.
He was referring to the most recent development in the countries' feud, which occurred late Friday when Iranian officials detained two oil tankers in the busy Strait of Hormuz shipping lane.
Iran stopped the oil tanker Stena Impero and escorted it to the port of Bandar Abbas, where it will stay pending an investigation, Iranian media reported on Saturday, citing the port authority.
Iran also briefly held a second vessel, the Liberian-flagged but British-operated Mesdar, before releasing it later on Friday.
Zarif argued that Iranian authorities had acted legitimately and that the case must now be dealt with through legal channels, the IRNA news agency reported.
Port authority spokesman Morad Afifipur said the Stena Impero was seized after colliding with an Iranian fishing ship and ignoring the crew's distress calls.
The fishing boat then alerted maritime authorities, who stopped the tanker in accordance with maritime regulations and escorted it to Bandar Abbas, Afifipur said, according to Iran's Isna news agency.
Stena Bulk, the Sweden-based firm that operates the Stena Impero, said in a statement that the vessel was in "full compliance with all navigation and international regulations" when it was approached by "unidentified small crafts."
The 23 members of the crew of the Stena Impero "are doing well given the circumstances," Erik Hanell, chief executive of Stena Bulk, told Swedish broadcaster SVT later Saturday.
He went on to deny reports that the vessel, which sails under a British flag, had been in Iranian waters when it was intercepted. "It was in international waters. We have transponders on the ship so that we always know exactly where it is."
The Mesdar tanker belongs to Algeria's national hydrocarbon company Sonatrach, which said the vessel was forced by the Iranian coastguard to head into Iranian territorial waters.
The British government has chaired two meetings of its emergency Cobra council in the past 24 hours, and the PA news agency reported that Britain had summoned Iran's charge d'affaires over the incident.
Following the first meeting, Hunt said Iran was on a "dangerous path" and threatened the country with "considered but robust" action.
After the second Cobra meeting, Hunt confirmed Britain's "desire to de-escalate" but stressed that the Stena Impero was seized in Omani waters "in clear contravention of international law."
The row adds to a weeks-long stand-off between Tehran and London, with British ships now being advised to avoid the Strait of Hormuz.
The confrontation between Britain and Iran began earlier this month when the Iranian oil carrier Grace 1 was impounded off the British territory of Gibraltar for allegedly violating EU sanctions on Syria. Britain later accused Iran of harassing a British ship in the Gulf.
Iranian forces have also had numerous run-ins with the US military in the region and Iran has faced accusations of attacking and detaining other tankers in the strategically important Gulf.
Germany and France have demanded Iran immediately release the Stena Impero oil tanker and said they stood by London in the dispute.
In a statement responding to the incident, an EU foreign policy spokesperson said, "In an already tense situation, this development brings risks of further escalation and undermines ongoing work to find a way to resolve current tensions."
The European Union has struggled to stay on its course of rapprochement with Iran since the US began pursuing its "maximum pressure" campaign on Tehran under Trump. Washington has pulled out of the nuclear deal world powers struck with Tehran in 2015 and reimposed sanctions on Iran, prompting Tehran to also announce its partial withdrawal.
The crew members on board the Stena Impero include 18 people from India and others from Russia, Latvia and the Philippines, according to Stena Bulk.
Officials in the Philippines and India have urged the release of their nationals.

Saturday, July 20th 2019
Farshid Motahari (dpa)

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