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Theresa May to hold emergency meeting as UK plots next step after Iran tanker seizure

Iran has remained defiant in the face of UK’s claims of “illegal and destabilising behaviour”.

File photo. Theresa May
File photo. Theresa May
Image: Stefan Rousseau/PA Images

AS HER LAST days as UK Prime Minister get under way, Theresa May will today hold talks at an emergency Cobra meeting to discuss the seizure of a British-flagged tanker near Iran.

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.

It comes amid escalating tensions between Iran and the US in recent months, a year on from US President Donald Trump pulling out of the landmark nuclear deal made between the two countries and other major western nations.  

The Cobra meeting today will involve ministers, security, intelligence and military chiefs as May decides the next step the UK will take following the vessel’s seizure. 

Britain summoned Iran’s charge d’affaires on Saturday and urged his country to de-escalate tensions and release the tanker. 

Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt – who’s set to lose out on becoming the next prime minister to Boris Johnson – said the seizure showed “worrying signs Iran may be choosing a dangerous path of illegal and destabilising behaviour”.

Hunt also spoke to his French and German counterparts yesterday who agreed safe passage for vessels through the Strait was a priority for European nations.

A top British representative to the United Nations also rejected Iran’s version of events, accusing Tehran of “illegal interference” and saying there was no evidence of a collision. 

In a letter to the UN Security Council, British charge d’affaires Jonathan Allen wrote that the vessel had been in Omani waters with its transponder switched on when it was approached.

It was “exercising the lawful right of transit passage in an international strait”, he wrote.

Video footage

Video footage released by Iran showed the Stena Impero tanker being surrounded by speedboats before troops in balaclavas descend a rope from a helicopter onto the vessel.

In an audio recording of a radio exchange, an Iranian officer can be heard ordering the tanker to change course “immediately”. 

“If you obey, you will be safe,” he said.

download (57) The British-flagged oil tanker Stena Impero (file photo) Source: AP/PA Images

The British frigate HMS Montrose intervenes to inform the Stena its “passage must not be impaired, impeded, obstructed or hampered” under international law.

The Iranians then tell the British warship: “No challenge is intended… I want to inspect the ship for security reason.”

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The authenticity of the recording, obtained and released by London-based maritime security risk analysts Dryad Global, was confirmed by Britain’s defence ministry.

London has warned its ships to avoid the Strait of Hormuz, a chokepoint for about a third of the world’s sea-borne oil.

The incident began hours after a Gibraltar court extended by 30 days the detention of an Iranian tanker seized by UK authorities two weeks ago on allegations of breaching sanctions against Syria.

Iran has remained defiant.

Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted that Trump’s national security adviser John Bolton “is turning his venom against the UK in hopes of dragging it into a quagmire”.

Nearby Oman, which maintains strong ties with Iran, joined calls for the release of the Stena Impero and urged London and Tehran to resolve the dispute.

Separately, Iran said one of its tankers held in its regional rival Saudi Arabia since being forced to seek repairs in the kingdom is returning home.

The Happiness 1 “has been released following negotiations and is now moving toward Persian Gulf waters,” said transport minister Mohammad Eslami, quoted by state news agency IRNA.

With reporting from AFP

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Sean Murray

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