Iran provokes UK by flying flag over seized oil tanker and releasing audio of tanker crew

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Javad Zarif

Javad Zarif

The Iranian flag has been hoisted over seized British oil tanker Stena Impero, in new footage broadcast on state TV.

Footage also shows Iranian armed forces patrolling the decks of the oil tanker after the Iranian Revolutionary Guard seized it in the Strait of Hormuz at 4pm on Friday.

The clip seems to have been recorded in the southern port of Bandar Abbas, where an Iranian official earlier confirmed the 23-strong crew of the British-registered tanker were ‘safe and in good health’

It comes after dramatic audio emerged of the moment a British warship ordered Iranian special forces not to board the previously UK-flagged oil tanker moments before it was hijacked.

As the situation in the Persian Gulf threatened to spiral out of control, Prime Minister Theresa May announced that she will hold a meeting of Britain’s emergencies committee Monday to discuss the UK’s next moves.

‘As well as receiving the latest updates from ministers and officials, the… meeting will discuss the maintenance of the security of shipping in the Persian Gulf,’ a Downing Street spokeswoman said Sunday.

In the radio recording, the Iranian vessel can be heard telling the Stena Impero to ‘change course immediately’, adding: ‘If you obey, you will be safe.’

HMS Montrose tells the Stena Impero: ‘As you are conducting transit passage in a recognised international strait, under international law your passage must not be impaired, impeded, obstructed or hampered.’

In response, the Iranian patrol vessel tells HMS Montrose: ‘No challenge is intended…. I want to inspect the ship for security reasons.’

Rejecting the claim, HMS Montrose replies: ‘Please confirm that you are not intending to violate international law by unlawfully attempting to board the MV Stena Impero.’

Moments later Iranian special forces boarded the ship from a helicopter before sailing it into Iranian territorial waters. Another vessel, the Mesdar, was also intercepted.

Montrose – which is the only British warship covering the Gulf, was an hour away from the Impero when it was seized, according to Defence Secretary Penny Mordaunt.

This morning, an Iranian official confirmed the crew of the British-registered tanker were ‘safe and in good health’ in the southern port of Bandar Abbas. The 23-strong crew is made up of 18 Indians, including the captain, three Russians, a Latvian and a Filipino.

Yesterday, Britain reported Iran to the United Nations, saying that the vessel had been intercepted in Omani territorial waters and that it ‘constitutes illegal interference’, as ministers faced claims the UK had ‘taken its eye off the ball’ by allowing the tanker to go unguarded.

Defence Minister Tobias Ellwood today warned that the Royal Navy is not big enough to deal with the threat from Iran.

Mr Ellwood demanded more money be invested in defence if Britain is to carry on playing a role on the international stage.

‘If we want to continue playing a role on the international stage – bearing in mind that threats are changing – all happening just beneath the threshold of all-out war, then we must invest more in our defence, including our Royal Navy,’ he told Sophy Ridge on Sunday. .

‘Our Royal Navy is too small to manage our interests across the globe if that’s our future intentions and that’s something the next prime minister will need to recognise.’

As the fallout continued, a defence source revealed the HMS Montrose raced to help the Stena Impero but arrived ten minutes too late.

The ship, which was patrolling the Persian Gulf, was forced to do a U-turn when it received orders to assist the Stena Impero.

The Stena Impero was still in Omani waters when the orders were sent, but by the time HMS Montrose arrived the vessel had been taken and redirected into Iranian territorial waters. It’s claimed the Iranians were ready to ‘engage’ the Type 23 frigate.

Britain’s UN mission wrote to the Security Council: ‘The ship was exercising the lawful right of transit passage in an international strait as provided for under international law.

‘International law requires that the right of transit passage shall not be impeded, and therefore the Iranian action constitutes illegal interference.’

Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt has expressed his ‘extreme disappointment’ at Iran, and said any responses from the UK will be announced in Parliament tomorrow.

He wrote on Twitter: ‘Just spoke to Iranian Foreign Affairs Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and expressed extreme disappointment that having assured me last Saturday that Iran wanted to deescalate situation they have behaved in the opposite way.’

The Government is looking at a ‘series of options’, according to Defence Minister Tobias Ellwood.

He denied that the UK had taken its ‘eye off the ball’ after the vessel was commandeered in the Omani waters in the economically significant Strait of Hormuz.

It came after reports ministers are considering freezing assets of the Iranian regime in response to the diplomatic incident.

Chancellor Philip Hammond also denied claims the Government had been negligent.

He told BBC One’s The Andrew Marr Show: ‘No, I don’t think the Government has taken its eye off the ball – we’ve been very much engaged with both the Americans and our European partners in the response to Iran’s increasing defiance of the JCPOA over the last few months.’

Asked if Britain could introduce new sanctions or freeze Iranian assets, Mr Hammond said: ‘We’ve already got a wide raft of sanctions against Iran, particularly financial sanctions, so it’s not clear that there are immediate things we can do but we are of course looking at all the options.’

But former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith accused the Government of a ‘major failure’ amid a row over funding for the Royal Navy.

Iain Duncan Smith said: ‘I think there are genuine questions to be raised right now about the British Government’s behaviour, I say this as a supporter of the Government.’

Speaking on the Andrew Marr Show, he said vessels in that area should have been convoyed and that he understands the US had offered the UK Government ‘US assets’ to support UK shipping.

He added: ‘They were not taken up at the point and I want to know why, with only one ship as it appears there, and no accelerated attempt at assets.

‘This is a major failure and the Government has to answer that charge very quickly indeed.’

It is understood UK officials will seek the green light to deploy Royal Marines on British vessels travelling through the Strait of Hormuz to act as a deterrent to further aggression.

Iran released a propaganda video on state TV yesterday showing the moment Iranian Revolutionary Guard commandos drop from a helicopter to hijack the British-registered tanker.

Footage shows troops wearing ski masks and carrying machine guns rappelling to the deck of the British-flagged tanker Stena Impero from their aircraft last night.

Also yesterday, the Iranian charge d’affaires in London was summoned to the Foreign Office and another meeting of Cobra, the UK Government’s emergency coordination committee, to discuss the crisis.

Source » dailymail

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