British Navy 'too small' to stop Iran from ignoring orders, seizing oil tanker
A British warship radioed an Iranian patrol boat to warn against interfering with the Stena Impero as the oil tanker passed through the Strait of Hormuz, according to an audio recording released by a British maritime security firm.
- A British naval officer repeatedly called on Iran to guarantee the tanker’s free passage
- Iranian forces told the ship’s crew to abruptly change course to “be safe”
- Britain and its allies have cautioned Tehran from further escalating tensions
The audio, released by maritime security risk firm Dryad Global, revealed how the British navy was unable to prevent the ship and its crew of 23 being seized by Iranian Revolutionary Guard forces on Friday.
Tehran’s decision has prompted condemnation from the United Kingdom and its European allies as they continue to call for a de-escalation of tensions in the critical waterway.
In the recording, an Iranian officer can be heard telling the Stena Impero to change course to “360 degrees immediately”.
“You obey, you will be safe,” the officer said, who later told the crew the ship was wanted for security reasons.
A British naval officer from the HMS Montrose frigate patrolling the area around the Strait of Hormuz was then heard telling the Stena Impero, which had a crew of 23 on board, that its passage must be allowed.
“Sir, I reiterate that as you are conducting transit passage in a recognised international strait, under international law your passage must not be impaired, intruded, obstructed or hampered,” the British officer said.
The British officer then warned the Iranian patrol boat to: “Please confirm that you are not intending to violate international law by unlawfully attempting to board the MV Stena.”
Iran’s Revolutionary Guards said they had captured the British-flagged Stena Impero, announcing the move two weeks after the British navy seized an Iranian tanker in Gibraltar. (Reuters)
Responding to the Montrose’s warning not to interfere, the Iranian boat said it was taking action for security purposes.
“This is Sepah Navy patrol boat. No challenge is intended, no challenge is intended. I want to inspect the ship for security reason.”
The Sepah Navy is a special unit of the Navy of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
Royal Navy ‘too small’ to defend British assets abroad
Royal Navy officers aboard the HMS Montrose were unable to stop Iran seizing the Stena Impero. (Crown Copyright: Joel Rouse)
Iranian officials said the seizure of the British oil tanker was a response to Britain’s role in impounding an Iranian supertanker in Gibraltar two weeks earlier.
This latest incident involving oil tankers comes amid heightened tensions between Washington and Tehran, which are rooted in the Trump administration’s 2018 decision to impose severe sanctions on Iran after it pulled out from a landmark nuclear deal signed in 2015.
The agreement — signed in 2015 between Iran, US, Britain, France, China, Russia and Germany — eased international sanctions on Iran in exchange for Tehran temporarily halting its nuclear program.
In recent months, the US has expanded its military presence in the region, while Iran has begun openly exceeding uranium enrichment levels set in the nuclear accord to pressure Europe to alleviate pain caused by the sanctions.
Britain’s Defence Secretary Tobias Ellwood reiterated calls for de-escalation on Sunday in an interview with Sky News.
“Well, firstly we need to try and de-escalate this. There has been a ratcheting up of tensions in the Middle East,” he said.
He added that Friday’s seizure was “a hostile act” by Iran.
Mr Ellwood also noted that the British Royal Navy “is too small to manage our interests across the globe” and this would be an issue for the next prime minister to recognise.
Jeremy Hunt says Iran engaged in ‘tit-for-tat’ actions
The free flow of traffic through the Strait of Hormuz is of international importance because one-fifth of all global crude exports pass through the narrow waterway between Iran and Oman.
In Tehran, some 160 parliamentarians on Sunday issued a joint statement praising the interception of the British-flagged vessel by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, which has released video of the seizure showing Iranian commandos in black ski masks and fatigues rappelling from a helicopter onto the vessel.
Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif used the opening session of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) forum in Venezuela on Saturday to blast the Trump administration’s foreign policy.
“A new wave of extreme one-sided adventurism from the United States is the main theme and the challenge that we all face in one way or another,” he said.
“It’s threatening peace and stability all around the world in different ways.”
Meanwhile, British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt spoke to reporters after an emergency government meeting over the “totally and utterly unacceptable” interception of the Stena Impero.
He defended Britain’s role in seizing the Iranian tanker on July 4 as a legal move because it was suspected of breaching EU sanctions on oil shipments to Syria.
Officials in Spain, near Gibraltar, initially said the ship’s seizure had been requested by the US.
Mr Hunt said Iranian officials “see this as a tit-for-tat situation, following Grace1 being detained in Gibraltar. Nothing could be further from the truth.”
Germany’s foreign minister warned Iran its seizure of commercial vessels was contributing to an “escalation spiral” that could lead to war.
Heiko Maas said in comments to German newspaper Bild that the seizure of the British tanker and the temporary detention of another has made the situation in the Gulf “a lot more serious and dangerous than it has been”.
He said European efforts were focused on keeping diplomatic channels open with “voices of reason”, despite the challenges involved.
“This is about preventing war,” he said.