July 19, 2019 Tensions between Iran and the West continue to escalate on Friday after two British-operated oil tankers were seized in the Strait of Hormuz. One of the vessels has 23 crew members aboard.
Iranian officials confirmed one British ship was intercepted in the Strait of Hormuz, and both U.S. and British officials say that a second vessel has also been seized.
British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt confirmed Friday afternoon that two vessels have been seized by Iranian authorities in the Strait of Hormuz. Hunt said one is a British–flagged vessel and the other is a Liberian–flagged vessel. He said the crews comprise a range of nationalities but are not believed to include British citizens.
Fox News reports that a shipping company that owns the British flagged vessel released a statement Friday confirming the Stena Impero, with 23 crew members aboard:
“was approached by unidentified small crafts and a helicopter during transit of the Strait of Hormuz while the vessel was in international waters.”
In a statement on their website, Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corp said the ship was seized for “non-compliance with international maritime laws and regulations” and is being brought to an unnamed Iranian port. Websites tracking the ship’s path showed it turning sharply in the direction of Iran’s Qeshm Island, instead of its intended destination of Saudi Arabia.
Friday’s news comes just one day after Iran’s state news agency reported that Revolutionary Guard Corp forces ambushed another tanker and 12 people on board on Sunday. The vessel appears to be a United Arab Emirates–based tanker that had disappeared off trackers in Iranian territorial waters over the weekend.
IRGC forces claim they ambushed the oil tanker for attempting to smuggle 1 million barrels of oil on Sunday south of Iran’s Larak Island in the Strait of Hormuz.
U.S. — Iran Tensions
Tensions between the U.S. and Iran have continued to rise since May, when a U. S. military assessment blamed several oil tanker attacks in the Gulf on Iran. Iran admits to shooting down a U.S. surveillance drone in the Strait of Hormuz, a move that prompted President Trump to order U.S. air strikes in retaliation—which he called off at the last minute.
In June, the Pentagon deployed 1,000 additional U.S. troops to the Middle East to address the growing threat posed by Iran.
On June 24, President Trump signed an executive order targeting Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Iran’s Foreign Minister with financial sanctions. Trump told reporters at the White House that Iran must never have a nuclear weapon.
Iran has continued to refuse to engage in fresh talks unless the United States lifts the crippling sanctions imposed by the Trump administration after withdrawing from the 2015 nuclear deal.
War of Words
Both the United States and Iran continue to insist they do not want war, but since President Trump pulled out of the 2015 Nuclear Deal nearly two months ago, the war of words between the two countries leaders has continued to escalate.
In recent weeks, Iranian leaders described the Trump administration as afflicted by mental retardation. President Trump has repeatedly called Iran a nation of terror.
On Tuesday, U.S. President Donald Trump cited “a lot of progress” in resolving the disputes with Iran. Earlier in the day, Iran’s supreme leader threatened to continue increasing the country’s stockpile of enriched uranium, breaching the 2015 nuclear deal.
STRAIT OF HORMUZ—Why it matters
President Trump has repeatedly downplayed growing global concerns that Iran might make good on threats to close off the Strait of Hormuz—a move that could cripple some countries economy. Trump says if it happens “it’s not going to be closed for long.”
The Strait of Hormuz separates Iran to the north and the Musandam Governorate of Oman and the United Arab Emirates to the south. It provides the only sea passage from the Persian Gulf to the open ocean and the world’s most strategically important maritime choke point and a main artery for the transport of oil from the Middle East. Approximately 22.5 million barrels of oil a day passed through the Strait of Hormuz on average since the start of 2018, according to Vortexa, an energy analytics firm. That’s roughly 24% of daily global oil production, and nearly 30% of oil moving over the world’s oceans.
SEE ALSO: IRANIAN FORCES SEIZE OIL TANKER AND CREW