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'Alter your course immediately': Recording emerges of standoff before Iran captures UK oil tanker

The Stena Impero was seized in international waters on Friday.

NEW AUDIO FOOTAGE has emerged of radio exchanges between the British Royal Navy and Iranian forces moments before a UK-flagged oil tanker was seized in the Strait of Homuz on Friday.

The recording, obtained by maritime security firm Dryad Global, appears to show the crew of an Iranian vessel telling the Stena Impero to alter its course.

It also appears to show Iranian forces telling the crew of a Royal Navy ship, the HMS Montrose, that it wanted inspect the Stena Impero for security reasons.

The oil tanker was impounded on Friday, along with its 23 crew members, after it was seized by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

Iran claims it detained the tanker over allegations that it failed to respond to distress calls and turned off its transponder after hitting a fishing boat.

The apparent audio recording shows the tensions between British and Iranian forces before the seizure.

“If you obey, you will be safe. Alter your course to three six zero degrees immediately,” the Iranian crew can be heard saying to the Stena Impero at the start of the recording.

However, a crew member on the HMS Montrose can then be heard identifying the ship and giving the Stena Impero conflicting advice:

I reiterate that as you are conducting transit passage in a recognised international strait, under international law your passage must not be impaired, impeded, obstructed, or hampered.
 Please confirm that you are conducting transit passage… [in a] recognised international strait, over.

The Iranian ship is then heard giving a final warning to the crew of the Stena Impero: “You are ordered, change your course to three six zero, three six zero degrees immediately.”

But the HMS Montrose crew member interjects and asks the Iranian vessel to confirm that it is not “intending to violate international law” by attempting to board the tanker.

In a longer recording, obtained by BBC, an Iranian crew member replies that he wants to inspect the Stena Impero for “security reasons”, but is warned by the HMS Montrose not to impede the passage of the oil tanker or else he will be violating international law.

Iran Persian Gulf Tensions The British-flagged oil tanker Stena Impero (file photo) Source: AP/PA Images

Yesterday, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards also released video footage showing a ship with the Stena Impero’s markings being surrounded by speedboats before troops in balaclavas descended down a rope from a helicopter onto the vessel.

Today, Iran said the vessel’s fate depends on the cooperation of its crew – who are reported to be safe and in good health – with an investigation.

“We are ready to meet their needs,” said Allah-Morad Afifipoor, director-general of the Hormozgan province port and maritime authority.

“But we have to carry out investigations with regards the vessel.

“The investigation depends on the cooperation by the crew members on the vessel, and also our access to the evidence required for us to look into the matter.

‘Illegal and destabilising behaviour’

The Stena Impero was one of two ships seized by Iran this week, but the British owner of the other ship, the Liberian-flagged Mesdar, confirmed that it had been later released after it was boarded by armed personnel.

The seizures follow the detention of an Iranian tanker by British authorities two weeks ago, over allegations it was breaching EU sanctions by delivering oil to Syria.

British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said the seizure of the ship showed “worrying signs Iran may be choosing a dangerous path of illegal and destabilising behaviour”.

His government, which met twice for emergency sessions on Friday, advised British ships to avoid the Strait of Hormuz for “an interim period”.

He had also warned that there would be “serious consequences” if the issue was not resolved quickly, and called the seizure a “tit-for-tat” situation, as it came hours after a court in Gibraltar said it would extend the detention of the Iranian tanker by 30 days.

Germany and France have urged Iran to release the Stena Impero, while India, Latvia and the Philippines – whose citizens made up the crew of the ship – said they have approached Iran to seek the release of their nationals.

Tensions in the Gulf have escalated since May this year, when the United States boosted its military presence in the region in response to “indications of a credible threat by Iranian regime forces”.

US President Donald Trump said Friday’s incident “only goes to show what I’m saying about Iran: trouble. Nothing but trouble”.

With reporting from - © AFP 2019.

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