The situation in the Gulf is escalating. A British ship is in the grip of Iran. Federal Foreign Minister Maas has issued an urgent warning.
The fixing of an oil tanker in the Strait of Hormus by Iran threatens to lead to a violent conflict. Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told the newspaper “Bild am Sonntag” that the situation in the Gulf has become “even more serious and dangerous” than it already is. “It is about preventing war,” the SPD politician said. Should diplomacy fail and there be a military escalation, there would be “no winners, only losers,” he continued.
In solidarity with the USA, Great Britain had threatened Iran with serious consequences after the fixing of the British-flagged oil tanker “Stena Impero”. The action on Friday evening indicated that Iran was following a “dangerous path of illegal and destabilizing behavior,” British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said on Twitter. The tanker was illegally stopped in Oman’s waters.
Meanwhile, the Iranian authorities have made the release of the ship conditional on the “cooperation” of the crew. The investigation into the incident that led to the seizure of the “Stena Impero” in the Strait of Hormus on Friday “depends on the cooperation of the crew members on board,” said the head of the Port and Shipping Authority of the Iranian province of Hormosgan, Allah-Morad Afifipoor, on Sunday.
The Iranian authorities should also have access to the “necessary evidence” to clarify the situation, Afifipoor said. The authorities are trying to “gather all the information as quickly as possible”.
The government in London called on British ships to avoid the Strait of Hormus and surrounding waters. The strait in the Gulf of Oman is one of the world’s most important sea lanes. Almost a third of global oil exports are shipped through this bottleneck.
USA soldiers move to Saudi Arabia
The government of US President Donald Trump announced that it would transfer soldiers to Saudi Arabia – Iran’s arch-enemy – as a deterrent. According to US media, up to 500 soldiers will be transferred. The US military also relocated reconnaissance aircraft operating in international airspace to the region. Trump wants to coordinate closely with the British government during the crisis. Only on Thursday he had declared that a US naval ship had destroyed an Iranian drone in the Strait of Hormus. The leadership in Tehran disagreed.
On Saturday, the British Foreign Secretary spoke on the phone with his Iranian colleague Mohammed Dschawad Sarif. According to Hunt, he expressed his “deep disappointment” about the situation during the conversation. Hunt assumes that the fixing of an Iranian oil tanker in British Gibraltar is the trigger for the latest move. The tanker, carrying oil destined for Syria, had been put on the chain at the beginning of July on suspicion of a breach of EU sanctions. On Friday the Gibraltar Supreme Court ordered the ship to be detained for a further 30 days, until 20 August.
Sarif told Twitter that it was Iran that guaranteed safety in the Persian Gulf and Strait of Hormus. “Unlike piracy in the Straits of Gibraltar, our action in the Persian Gulf serves to preserve maritime rules,” Sarif said.
EU Foreign Affairs Commissioner Federica Mogherini called for the immediate release of the British ship on Saturday, according to a spokesman, and warned of a further escalation.
The 23 crew members of the oil tanker “Stena Impero” were in good health under the circumstances, said Erik Hånell, head of the Stena Bulk shipping company. According to Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, they had stopped the freighter and brought it to the Iranian coast. The reason given was that the tanker had disregarded international regulations. The tanker is now located in the southern Iranian port of Bandar Abbas.
The shipping company Stena Bulk, which owns the ship, announced that the tanker had complied with all international regulations. Several smaller boats and a helicopter had approached when the tanker was sailing in international waters. According to Iranian sources, 18 of the 23 crew members of the “Stena Impero” come from India. Three are from Russia and one each from the Philippines and Latvia. Shortly after the first incident, a second tanker was temporarily pushed in the direction of Iran and was released again after a short inspection.
Meanwhile, US President Trump instructed the Republican Senator Rand Paul to sound out the possibility of starting talks with Iran. The senator had offered his help, Trump explained. “We’ll see what happens.” In May 2018, Trump had unilaterally terminated the nuclear agreement with Iran and then imposed harsh economic sanctions against Iran.