Theresa May chairs emergency session on seized tanker

Vastavam web: 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. 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 tanker crisis is unfolding in the final days of May’s leadership. The Conservative Party plans to name her successor Tuesday, and the new prime minister either front-runner Boris Johnson or Hunt is expected to take office Wednesday. Friday’s seizure came amid heightened tensions between the U.S. and Iran stemming from President Donald Trump’s decision last year to pull the US from Iran’s nuclear accord with world powers and reinstate sweeping sanctions on Iran.

Steps have been taken to prevent further incidents in the coming days while longer range options are discussed. Maritime industry publication Lloyd’s List said there are currently no U.K.-flagged ships heading to the Persian Gulf and eight U.K.-flagged vessels anchored there after a government advisory to such vessels to avoid the Strait of Hormuz.

ritain says the tanker was in Omani waters at the time, which Iran disputes. In the newly video released Monday, the Stena Impero crew is seen dressed in red uniforms and seated around a table onboard as an unidentified Iranian man is heard thanking them for their cooperation. A cameraman is heard telling them not to look at the camera. It wasn’t clear if the crew was under duress to take part in the filming.

Other choreographed shots show a man checking on the ship, the crew sharing a laugh and talking next to a coffee machine inside the ship. The crew’s chefs are seen preparing food. Another video released by Iran’s state broadcaster shows Iran’s flag hoisted on the ship’s bridge. As the nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers unravels, the U.S. has expanded its military presence in the region, while Iran has begun openly exceeding the uranium enrichment levels set in the accord to try to pressure Europe into alleviating the pain caused by the sanctions.

Britain is adding to its military profile in the region but it does not have the naval resources that would be needed to protect all of its shipping interests. Scores of vessels pass through the Strait of Hormuz each day, where shipping lanes are just two miles wide at its narrowest. More than 400 transits through the passage were made last year by U.K. associated ships.

In Tehran, some 160 lawmakers issued a joint statement Sunday praising the interception of the British-flagged vessel by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, which released video of the seizure, showing Iranian commandos in black ski masks and fatigues rappelling from a helicopter onto the vessel. Also Sunday, an audio released by maritime security risk firm Dryad Global shows that a British frigate was too far away from the targeted tanker to keep it from being diverted into an Iranian port, despite U.K. efforts to keep it from being boarded.