Seized British tanker preparing to leave Iran

File photo showing British-flagged oil tanker Stena Impero at anchor off Bandar Abbas, Iran (22 August 2019)Image copyright

Image caption

The Stena Impero was initially accused of breaking “international maritime rules”

A British-flagged oil tanker is leaving Iran, after being held for more than two months.

The Stena Impero’s Swedish owner, Stena Bulk, said it was on the move from the Bandar Abbas port, where it has been anchored since July.

The vessel was seized by Iranian troops in the Strait of Hormuz after they accused it of breaking maritime rules.

Officials say it left for international waters at 09:00 local time (05:30 GMT) on Friday morning.

Erik Hanell, CEO of Stena Bulk, said the vessel would head to Dubai, where the crew would be debriefed and receive medical checks.

The families of crew members have been informed and the Company is currently making arrangements for the repatriation of its valued seafarers at the earliest possible opportunity,” he said in a statement.

The tanker’s seizure, on 19 July, came two weeks after an Iranian tanker was held off Gibraltar with the help of the UK Royal Marines.

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Media captionFootage released by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard-affiliated Fars news agency appears to show Stena Impero being seized

That ship was suspected of violating EU sanctions on Syria, but was released in August.

The operation against the Stena Impero was seen as retaliation for Britain’s role in helping to seize the Iranian vessel, a link Tehran denied.

Why was the tanker seized?

The Stena Impero was passing through international waters in the Strait of Hormuz, a narrow waterway that connects the Gulf and the Indian Ocean, on 19 July when it was detained by Iran’s Islamic Revolution Guard Corps.

Iran accused the vessel of colliding with a fishing boat and failing to respond to calls, but the ship’s owners said there was no evidence.

The UK said it deployed a Royal Navy frigate to come to the tanker’s aid and warned Iranian authorities that their actions were illegal, but the frigate was unable to reach the scene in time.

The Stena Impero was then transported to the port of Bandar Abbas, where it has remained anchored since.

Seven “non-essential” members of its crew were freed by Iran on humanitarian grounds earlier this month. Sixteen crew members – 13 Indians, two Russians and one Filipino – are thought to be still on board.

The tanker reappeared on online shipping tracking websites on Friday – days after a detention order was lifted.

A statement from Iran’s Ports and Maritime Organisation said the ship had been released “despite there being an open court case” against it.

The release comes amid high tensions in the region. There have been a series of confrontations over tankers in the Gulf, as well as a recent attack on Saudi oil facilities – which both the US and Saudi Arabia have blamed on Tehran.

Tensions between the US and Iran have escalated this year, following President Donald Trump’s abandonment of a deal aimed at limiting Iran’s nuclear activities.