On Friday 19th July, the notorious Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) seized the British-flagged Stena Impero and all of its crew.
A spokesperson for the Guardian Council, Abbas Ali Kadkhodaei, said that the move was in response to the role of the United Kingdom in the impounding of an Iranian oil tanker just two weeks previous. He said that the seizure was to “confront the illegitimate economic war and seizure of oil tankers is an instance of this rule and is based on international rights”.
His comments are understood to be a reflection of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s views. The Guardian Council works closely alongside the Supreme Leader and it very rarely comments on such matters.
On 4th July, a group of 30 British Royal Marines and a number of police officers from Gibraltar detained the Iranian Grace 1 vessel and its cargo because of the belief that Iran was breaching EU sanctions.
The following day, an adviser to the Iranian Supreme Leader called on the United Kingdom to immediately release the Iranian tanker, warning: “If Britain does not release the Iranian oil tanker, it is the authorities’ duty to seize a British oil tanker.”
The British Ministry of Defence said that HMS Duncan would be joining HMS Montrose to make sure that there is a “continuous availability of ships to accompany merchant vessels”.
The shipping industry has been quite perturbed by recent events and the British government has tried to provide assurances that measures are being taken to safeguard all British vessels in the region. Last week, the government announced that the Royal Navy would be accompanying vessels through the Strait of Hormuz.
Furthermore, the country’s Defence Secretary emphasised that the freedom of navigation is a priority, especially in the Gulf, because of the quantity of trade that passes through. He said that it is vital to “our international partners and allies”, as well as the UK. He said: “Merchant ships must be free to travel lawfully and trade safely, anywhere in the world. I’m pleased that HMS Duncan will continue HMS Montrose’s fine work in helping to secure this essential route.”
There has been international condemnation of the incident that U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has described as an “act of piracy”.