Iran says British-flagged tanker was in accident with fishing boat

Britain said earlier it was urgently seeking information about the Stena Impero, which had been heading to a port in Saudi Arabia and suddenly changed course after passing through the strait at the mouth of the Gulf.
Britain said earlier it was urgently seeking information about the Stena Impero, which had been heading to a port in Saudi Arabia and suddenly changed course after passing through the strait at the mouth of the Gulf.PHOTO: REUTERS

TEHRAN (REUTERS, AFP) - The British-flagged tanker Stena Impero was in an accident with a fishing boat before being detained on Friday (July 19), Iran's Fars news agency reported on Saturday, quoting an official.

Iran says all 23 crew seized on the tanker are now at Bandar Abbas port and will remain on the vessel until the end of an investigation, according to Fars.

"It got involved in an accident with an Iranian fishing boat... When the boat sent a distress call, the British-flagged ship ignored it," said the head of Ports and Maritime Organisation in southern Hormozgan province, Mr Allahmorad Afifipour.

"The tanker is now at Iran's Bandar Abbas port and all of its 23 crew members will remain on the ship until the probe is over."

The crew was made up of 18 Indian nationals and five others from Russia, the Philippines, Lithuania and elsewhere, Mr Afifipour said.

The Stena Impero was taken to Bandar Abbas on Friday night by the naval forces of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and the investigation into the accident began on Saturday, Mr Afifipour said, according to Fars.

The tanker’s operator, Stena Bulk, said on Friday the ship had been "in full compliance with all navigation and international regulations", but was no longer under the crew’s control and could not be contacted.

The Philippines said Saturday it would ask Iran to free a Filipino crew member.

"(Philippine) Ambassador to Iran Fred Santos is contacting Iranian authorities to seek assurance that the Filipino seafarer is safe and will be released soon," the Philippine foreign department said in a statement, adding the unidentified crew member’s family has been notified.

Britain’s Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said on Friday it would respond to the seizure in a "considered but robust" way and that it was urgently seeking information about the Stena Impero, which had been heading to a port in Saudi Arabia and suddenly changed course after passing through the strait at the mouth of the Gulf.

Already strained relations between Iran and the West have become increasingly fraught since the British navy seized Iran’s Grace 1 tanker in Gibraltar on July 4 on suspicion of smuggling oil to Syria in breach of EU sanctions.