London, Jul 21 : A recording has emerged of radio exchanges between a Royal Navy frigate and Iranian armed forces vessels, moments before a British-flagged oil tanker was seized in the Gulf.
In the recording, what is thought to be an Iranian vessel tells HMS Montrose it wants to inspect the tanker for security reasons, according to a BBC News report on Sunday. The Stena Impero was boarded by Iranian authorities on Friday. The foreign secretary has urged Iran to reverse the tanker's "illegal" seizure. In the radio recording the Iranian vessel can be heard telling a ship - thought to be the Stena Impero - to change its course, saying: "If you obey you will be safe."
HMS Montrose identifies itself in the recording, obtained by British maritime security firm Dryad Global. It 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." The frigate then asks the Iranian vessel to confirm it is not "intending to violate international law" by attempting to board the tanker.
On Friday, the Stena Impero was seized by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard in the Strait of Hormuz, a key shipping route in the Gulf. Tehran said the vessel was "violating international maritime rules".
Video released by Iran's Revolutionary Guard-affiliated Fars news agency on Saturday appeared to show the moment the tanker was raided. It shows masked forces dropping down ropes on to the ship from a helicopter after it was surrounded by high-speed vessels.
HMS Montrose was alerted but it was too far away to stop the seizure. Iran's state-run IRNA news agency said the tanker was captured after it collided with a fishing boat and failed to respond to calls from the smaller craft. But Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said it was seized in Omani waters in "clear contravention of international law" and then forced to sail into Iran.
The tanker's owners, Stena Bulk, said it had been complying with regulations and had been in international waters.
It said it had requested access to the port of Bandar Abbas to visit crew members, who are Indian, Russian, Latvian and Filipino, and said to be in good health. The seizure of the Stena Impero comes two weeks after Royal Marines helped seize Iranian tanker Grace 1 off Gibraltar, because of evidence it was carrying oil to Syria in breach of EU sanctions. Mr Hunt said the Grace 1 was detained legally, but Iran described said this was "piracy" and threatened to seize a British oil tanker in retaliation.
How did the UK react?
Speaking after a call with his Iranian counterpart on Saturday, Mr Hunt said Iran viewed this as a "tit-for-tat situation" but he added that "nothing could be further from the truth". Ministers have held emergency Cobra meetings and a senior Iranian diplomat was summoned to the Foreign Office. Mr Hunt said MPs would be updated on Monday.
"Our priority continues to be to find a way to de-escalate the situation," he said. The government is advising UK shipping to stay out of the area.
What has Iran said? Iran's foreign minister Javad Zarif tweeted that the UK "must cease being an accessory to #EconomicTerrorism of the US".
He said Iran guarantees the security of the Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz, and insisted its action were to "uphold international maritime rules". Iran's ambassador to London Hamid Baeidinejad tweeted that the UK government should "contain" domestic political forces which are interested in escalating existing tensions.
"This is quite dangerous and unwise at a sensitive time in the region," he said. "Iran however is firm and ready for different scenarios."
What's the background to this?
The latest developments come against a backdrop of deteriorating relations between Iran and the UK and US. Tensions between the US and Iran have risen since April, when the US tightened sanctions it had reimposed on Iran after unilaterally withdrawing from a 2015 nuclear deal.
The US blamed Iran for attacks on tankers since May, which Tehran denies. On Friday, the US claimed to have destroyed an Iranian drone in the Gulf. The UK government has remained committed to the deal, which curbs Iran's nuclear activities in return for the lifting of sanctions tensions.
However, the UK's decision to help seize the Iranian tanker Grace 1 earlier this month infuriated Iran. Last week, Iranian boats attempted to impede a British oil tanker in the region before being warned off by HMS Montrose. Iran denied it was attempting to seize the ship.
A White House National Security Council spokesman said Friday's incident was the second time in over a week the UK had been "the target of escalatory violence" by Iran. And US Central Command said it was developing a multinational maritime effort in response to the situation.
The Pentagon has said US troops are being deployed to Saudi Arabia to defend American interests in the region from "emergent credible threats". France, Germany, and the European Union called on the Iranian authorities to quickly release the Stena Impero.
The EU's foreign affairs office, which represents 28 member states, expressed "deep concern".(UNi)