Tehran denies seizing British-flagged oil tanker in retaliation

July 6, 2019 - 19:47

TEHRAN - Iran has dismissed reports about the seizure of a British oil tanker in the Persian Gulf, the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) reported on Saturday.

It comes just one day after Mohsen Rezaee, the secretary of the Expediency Council, suggested the seizure of a UK ship in retaliation after Royal Marines captured an Iranian supertanker.

On Saturday, maritime tracking programs showed British-flagged crude oil tanker Pacific Voyager had come to a halt, and listed its status as “not under command”, stoking fears that Iran had retaliated.

Sources, however, told The Telegraph that the situation was a “routine matter.”

“There’s nothing going on. The ship is just drifting because it’s early for its next port. It hasn’t issued any distress signals or shown any problems on board,” the sources said.

The United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO), which coordinates shipping in the Persian Gulf, said later that the ship was “safe and well”. The UKMTO, had been in direct contact with the vessel, an official said.

Iran dismissed as “fabricated” reports that the ship had been seized by Islamic Revolution Guards Corps forces. IRIB quoted unnamed senior Iranian government sources denying the boat had been seized.

Earlier this week, Royal Marines helped customs officers impound the tanker near Gibraltar, believed to be carrying two million barrels of Iranian crude to Syria in violation of EU sanctions, sparking a diplomatic spat.

The move provoked fury in Iran, which accused Britain of bowing to U.S. pressure to blockade its oil exports, even summoning the British ambassador to the Foreign Ministry in Tehran to express “very strong objection to the illegal and unacceptable seizure” of the 300-meter vessel.

Gibraltar officials however said that it had acted independently and denied seizing the tanker at the request of the U.S. or any other country.

“If Britain does not release the Iranian oil tanker, it is the authorities’ duty to seize a British oil tanker,” Rezaee tweeted on Friday.

“Islamic Iran in its 40-year history has never initiated hostilities in any battles, but has also never hesitated in responding to bullies,” he added.

Maersk, the Danish shipping giant, on Thursday announced it would levy a war risk surcharge on cargos transiting the Persian Gulf.

Earlier on Saturday, a religious figure in Iran warned that the United Kingdom should be “scared” of Tehran’s possible reciprocal measures for the capture of Iran’s Grace 1 supertanker by the British navy in Gibraltar.

“I am openly saying that Britain should be scared of Iran’s retaliatory measures over the illegal seizure of the Iranian oil tanker,” said Mohammad Ali Mousavi Jazayeri, a member of the Assembly of Experts.

“We have shown that we will never remain silent against bullying ... As we gave a staunch response to the American drone, the appropriate response to this illegal capture will be given by Iran as well,” he said.