24 july 2019
Swedish shipowner Stena Bulk reported Wednesday that it has established direct communications with the crew of the product tanker Stena Impero, which was seized by Iranian forces on July 19. The crew is safe and well, and is cooperating with Iranian personnel, Stena said.
“We do of course appreciate this step of development and that this is a first sign that we will soon see more positive progress from the Iranian authorities,” said Erik Hanell, president and CEO of Stena Bulk.
Commandos from Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) seized the UK-flagged Stena Impero as she transited the Strait of Hormuz last Friday. The UK Royal Marines conducted a similar seizure of the Iranian-controlled VLCC Grace 1 on July 4 after British authorities determined that the vessel was intending to violate EU sanctions on Syrian oil imports. Iranian leaders had warned of the possibility of retribution for the act, and one called explicitly for the IRGC to seize a British tanker in retaliation.
On Wednesday, Iranian president Hassan Rouhani appeared to acknowledge that the seizure of the Impero had a connection to the seizure of the Grace 1, implying that a quid pro quo arrangement might be negotiated for the release of both ships. “If Britain steps away from the wrong actions in Gibraltar, they will receive an appropriate response from Iran,” he said at a cabinet meeting.
While she is flagged in the UK and has a British technical manager, the Impero is Swedish-owned and -commercially managed, and none of her crew are British nationals. 18 out of the 23 seafarers on board are from India, and Indian diplomats have been in “constant contact” with Tehran to advocate for their release and repatriation, according to Indian external affairs minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar.