The owner of a British-flagged oil tanker that has been in Iranian custody since July says seven crew members of the Stena Impero have been released by Iran and “are now traveling to a safe location.”
There were 23 crew members of various nationalities aboard the Stena Impero when it was seized in the Strait of Hormuz two weeks after British forces captured an Iranian oil tanker near Gibraltar for allegedly violating sanctions on Syria.
The seizures came with tensions already ratcheted up by confrontations between Western and Iranian military and commercial ships in the strategic Persian Gulf region that is a conduit for around one-fifth of the world’s oil supplies.
The Stena Impero’s 23 seafarers are Indian, Russian, Latvian, and Filipino nationals. The remaining 16 crew members are still on board the ship.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Musavi had pledged on September 4 that seven Russian and Indian nationals would be freed on humanitarian grounds. The ship’s captain selected the seven, he added.
The ship’s owner, Stena Bulk, and its operator said in a statement on September 5 that they were withholding all crew members’ names to protect their privacy.
They said the freed crew members would be reunited with their families and then receive medical checks and a debriefing before being repatriated to their home countries “at the earliest opportunity.”
The Russian Embassy in Tehran said the freed crew members were taken to Dubai.
We continue to work tirelessly to obtain the release of the remaining crew onboard the Stena Impero and will continue to provide all possible support to their families during this difficult time,” the ship owner said.
Stena Bulk reiterated that its vessel and crew did nothing wrong.
U.S. President Donald Trump has called for an international effort to escort vessels to defend commercial shipping interests in the Persian Gulf against harassment and illegal interference, meeting with support from Australia, Britain, and other Western and Gulf state officials.
Washington blames Iran or Iranian-linked proxies for a series of attacks on shipping in the world’s most important oil-transit route in the past two months.
Tehran has denied the accusations and warned that outsiders’ presence in the region, where it claims special policing authority, is a source of instability and insecurity.
Copyright (c) 2015. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036.