Ship seizure by Iran in Gulf of Hormuz alarms industry

Malcolm Latarche
Malcolm Latarche
ShipInsight

22 July 2019


Iran’s seizure of the UK-flagged tanker Stena Impero has been condemned by shipping organisations concerned at the deteriorating safety situation in the Gulf of Hormuz.

Iran’s seizure of the vessel in retaliation for the impounding in Gibraltar of a tanker carrying Iranian oil to Syria came after the IMO Council had issued a statement condemning earlier limpet mine attacks on tankers in the region.

The IMO Council was meeting last week in London for a routine meeting. Its statement said, “After debate, the IMO Council decided to condemn the attacks and expressed its concern over the grave danger to life and the serious risks to navigational safety and the environment to which such incidents may give rise. The Council also emphasised the need for flag States and shipowners and operators to review the maritime security plans for their ships and implement necessary measures to address the heighted security risk to ships operating in the Strait of Hormuz and Sea of Oman.

The IMO Council decision recognises the strategic importance of the navigational routes in and near the Strait of Hormuz, and reminds all flag States, ship owners and operators of the need to implement appropriate security measures for their ships at all times, in the light of the recent attacks in and near the Strait of Hormuz.

IMO Secretary General Kitack Lim added “I strongly urge all Member States to redouble their efforts and to work together to find a long-lasting solution to ensure the safety and security of international shipping around the globe and the protection of the marine environment. We owe it to our industry, which is indispensable to the world, and to our seafarers.”

Iran’s seizure of the Swedish-owned Stena Impero came just after the IMO statement was issued at around 1600 BST on 19 July.

Following the seizure, the ICS issued a statement in which Guy Platten, Secretary General of the International Chamber of Shipping said, “We are extremely concerned about this latest development in the Strait of Hormuz, particularly in respect of the safety of seafarers. We call on all authorities to work together to seek a swift and transparent resolution to the situation and to ensure that crews are kept safe.

"Freedom of navigation is vital for global trade and we encourage all nations to uphold this fundamental principle of maritime law. In the 21st century it is not acceptable for seafarers and ships to become pawns in any way, they must be allowed to operate in safety. We will be reviewing the situation and remain in contact with relevant authorities.”

Further details of the vessel’s detention were made public over the weekend with Iran claiming its actions were justified after the vessel allegedly collided with an Iranian fishing vessel. However, there has been no confirmation of that and most analysts believe that the seizure was done to put pressure on the UK government over the seizure of the Iranian tanker Grace I earlier in July. Iran claims that the seizure of its vessel for violating EU sanctions against Syria in waters off Gibraltar was illegal because neither Iran nor Syria recognise the sanctions.

A new hearing on the continued detention of Grace I is scheduled to be held in Gibraltar on 15 August.

Meanwhile the owners of the Stena Impero have been regularly posting reports on its website and has requested permission to visit the crew of the vessel which is now being detained in Bandar Abbas. The crew comprises personnel from India, Latvia, Philippines and Russia.

A UK frigate was in the region when Stena Impero was seized but was over an hour’s sailing distance away. Despite radio warnings to the Iranians by HMS Montrose, Iranian forces continued with the action. It has also been reported that a second tanker, the British-owned but Liberian-flagged Mesdar, was also boarded by armed Iranian forces but released.