Iran seizes British tanker in Strait of Hormuz; denies Trump’s claim on drone downing
DUBAI: Iran’s Revolutionary Guard said Friday it seized a British tanker in the Strait of Hormuz, setting up another potential showdown with the West and displaying Tehran’s increasingly bold military moves in the strategic waterway.
The statement on Iranian state television gave no further details of the interdiction of the Stena Impero. But it follows Iran’s demands for the release of an Iranian vessel stopped by British forces off Gibraltar on July on suspicion of smuggling oil to Syria in violation of sanctions.
In London, the British government said it was “urgently” seeking further information on the tanker and its 23 crew members.
The ship’s operators, Stena Bulk and Northern Marine Management, said the vessel was in international waters when it was “approached by unidentified small crafts and a helicopter during transit of the Strait of Hormuz.”
It said it could not contact the ship, which was diverted on a course “heading north toward Iran.” The Marine Traffic website said the Stena Impero had left the United Arab Emirates on Friday and was heading for Saudi Arabia.
The seizure sharply raises tensions as the fate of the crew is in Iranian hands. In 2007, Iran held 15 Royal Navy personnel for 13 days, accused of straying into Iranian waters, in one of the most serious maritime incidents between the two countries.
The announcement of the ship seizure came just hours after Iranian state television aired footage showing drone images of warships that the broadcaster said disproved President Trump’s assertion that the U.S. military had destroyed an Iranian drone.
The television station said the footage was provided by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and showed images of the USS Boxer entering the Strait of Hormuz. The video was also posted by Iran’s Press TV and included images taken from above what appeared to be a warship, but the veracity of the footage could not immediately be verified.
Iran’s rebuttal of the U.S. claim to have brought down an Iranian drone came amid a new escalation of tensions between Washington and Tehran as the United States seeks to impose tough new sanctions on Iran, and the Islamic republic pushes back. It is almost exactly a month since Iran downed a U.S. drone over the same waterway, prompting Trump to consider launching a military strike against Iran.
Trump said Thursday that the USS Boxer destroyed the drone after it approached within 1,000 yards of the amphibious assault ship, which is among new naval reinforcements dispatched to deter Iranian threats against shipping in the area. The Pentagon confirmed that the incident took place, saying the drone was brought down around 10 a.m. Thursday.
Iran denied, however, that any encounter had occurred between one of its drones and a U.S. warship, insisting that all its drones were accounted for.
“We have not lost any drone in the Strait of Hormuz nor anywhere else,” Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi said on his Twitter account. He suggested that the United States may have shot down one of its own drones “by mistake.”
Iran’s top military spokesman also said there had been no incident involving any Iranian drone.
“All Iranian drones that are in the Persian Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz, including the one which the U.S. mentioned, after carrying out scheduled identification and control missions, have returned to their bases,” said Brig. Gen. Abolfazl Shekari, according to Iran’s Tasnim News Agency.
Tensions have been rising again in recent days in the vicinity of the Persian Gulf, where the United States has deployed extra warships to deter Iranian threats against shipping. The Strait of Hormuz is the narrow waterway that controls access to the Persian Gulf, through which a fifth of the world’s oil is moved.
The USS Boxer is part of an amphibious force that includes more than 2,000 Marines from the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit, which arrived in the region this week. The Trump administration has accused Iran of being behind a string of incidents, including attacks and harassment against commercial shipping, that have contributed to the rising tensions in the region as the United States sets about squeezing Iran with tighter sanctions.
Iran has denied involvement. On Thursday, however, Iran acknowledged that it had seized a United Arab Emirates-based ship that was reported missing last weekend. The Panama-registered Riah was detained because it was suspected to be involved in smuggling, Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps announced Thursday.
The State Department and Pentagon are hosting a meeting with diplomats Friday to discuss the need for a coalition to protect maritime security around the Strait of Hormuz.
“A multinational effort is needed to address this global challenge and ensure the safe passage of vessels,” the State Department said in a statement.