22 Jul 19
The Scottish Sun
STARTLING aerial photos of the British-flagged oil tanker seized by Tehran’s troops have emerged showing it being circled by a military speedboat.
The images show the stricken Stena Impero next to the Iranian port town of Bandar Abbas after it was dramatically seized in the Strait of Hormuz.
The Stena Impero circled by an Iranian-manned speedboat in the Strait of Hormuz
The British oil tanker was captured on Friday by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard
They emerged hours after Jeremy Hunt vowed to protect ships in the Gulf with a Europe-wide naval task force as tensions with Iran continue to rise.
Earlier, the first pictures emerged from inside the tanker captured on Friday by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard.
One image shows the captive crew huddled on the floor and surrounded by makeshift bedding.
A pile of shoes can also be seen in the foreground.
The picture was taken on Sunday and released by Fars News Agency, a news agency with close ties to the Iranian regime.
Other images show an Iranian soldier patrolling one of the ship’s walkways, and the ship seen from a distance down the barrel of a rifle.
Footage from Iranian state media showed the crew inside the ship, sat round a table talking and seemingly comfortable.
Members can also be seen working in the ship’s kitchen and standing on what looks to be its bridge.
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The Stena Impero is next to the Iranian port town of Bandar Abbas
A picture from on board the Stena Impero shows the crew of the ship after it was captured
Armed members of the Revolutionary Guard patrol the ship on Sunday
Footage from Iranian state media showed the crew gathered on board the ship
Iran launched a gunboat and helicopter raid on the UK-registered ship last week, claiming the vessel had turned off its tracker and ignored warnings after hitting a fishing boat.
Iran’s Revolutionary Guard later said on the country’s state television that the ship had been boarded for “violating international maritime rules”.
But Stena Bulk, which owns the ship, said it was in “full compliance with all navigation and international regulations”.
The move is widely assumed to have been a retaliation to the British seizure of an Iranian vessel off Gibraltar last week.
The Iranian vessel was suspected of breaching an embargo on oil shipments to Syria, but Iran said at the time it would “not leave such evil deeds unanswered”.
In a letter to the UN Security Council, the UK’s deputy permanent representative Jonathan Allen wrote that the British vessel had been in Omani waters with its transponder switched on when it was approached.
They are seen sat round a table talking and seemingly comfortable
Crew members can also be seen on what looks to be the ship’s bridge
The ship seen from a distance down the barrel of a rifle
Stena Bulk said Iranian authorities had told them the ship’s crew were in “good health” and being held at Iranian port Bandar Abbas.
But in a further taunt to the Royal Navy, Iran last night hoisted an Iranian flag over the vessel.
Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt has called the seizure illegal and said that British shipping “must and will be protected”.
Dramatic footage released on Saturday showed the moment Tehran troops abseiled onto the ship the night before.
The clip is thought to have been filmed in the southern port of Bandar Abbas, where jet boats have been sailing around the British ship.
It has also emerged Tehran wants to impose a “toll” on all ships passing through the Strait of Hormuz, saying it would be used to “protect” the safety of the vessels.
Any move to create a toll is likely to be met with hostility as a fifth of the world’s oil passes through the strait.
On Saturday, state-funded Press TV published an article, entitled “From Piracy to Impotence”, criticising British activity in the Gulf.
IF YOU OBEY, YOU WILL BE SAFE
“Diplomatic spats aside, any objective review of the facts will not fail to recognise that in recent events in the Persian Gulf and the Gibraltar Strait, the UK has engaged in illegal, and destabilising, activities on at least three occasions,” it said.
Audio has also emerged of radio exchanges before the seizure between Iranian armed forces and a nearby British warship, HMS Montrose.
In the recording, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard can be heard telling the Impero: “If you obey, you will be safe. Alter course to 360 degrees immediately, over.”
After that, HMS Montrose can be heard telling the ship’s crew: “This is British warship F236.
“I reiterate, that 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, in the recording obtained by security firm Dryad Global.
Moments later, Iranian special forces stormed the ship by abseiling down from a helicopter.
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The Iranian flag was hoisted over seized British tanker Stena Impero
An Iranian Revolutionary Guard jet boat sails around the seized British-flagged tanker Stena Impero in Bandar Abbas
An Iranian soldier on a walkway on board the ship
Penny Mordaunt, the defence secretary, said that HMS Montrose had been an hour away from the Impero, too far to physically stop the seizure.
Montrose is the only warship Britain has in the Gulf to cover the 90-mile strait.
However, the government has not arranged fixed times at which civilian vessels from the UK could sail through the Strait under the protection of the frigate, as it has done previously to guard against Somali pirates.
It can also be revealed that in April Britain withdrew two Royal Navy Wildcat helicopters, which were based close by in Oman and provided surveillance of the Strait for hostile Iranian activity.
It said at the time they were “no longer needed”.
A nuclear-powered submarine and Royal Marine Commandos could now be sent to bolster Navy defences in the Gulf.
The moves were discussed at emergency meetings of the Government’s Cobra security committee after Friday’s hijacks.
Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt warned Iran it was choosing a “dangerous path” with its “totally unacceptable” actions in the Gulf.
He said he had spoken to Iran’s foreign minister to voice his “extreme disappointment”.
Last night Mr Hunt announced he had raised the maritime threat level to “level three” — or “critical.”
The Tory leadership candidate is expected to use a Commons statement today to announce a package of diplomatic and economic measures.
The UK could also push for EU and UN sanctions to be reimposed on the regime after they were lifted in 2016 as part of a deal on Iran’s nuclear programme.
The UK and the EU have so far shown a willingness to help Iran ease the impact of sanctions reimposed by the US last year after President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the deal.
Defence Minister Tobias Ellwood today warned the Royal Navy is too small to protect British ships from Iran.
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He also threatened to freeze the country’s assets if it doesn’t release the UK tanker.
Asked if the drastic move was being considered, Mr Ellwood said: “Cobra was taking place yesterday, so we’re looking at the operational responsibilities from that but, yes, we are going to be looking at a series of options.”
Iran seized the ship after claiming it had ‘violated international maritime rules’
New footage showed members of the crew apparently unharmed
Some can be seen working in the ship’s kitchen
The crew have been captive on the ship since Friday
The parents of Dijo Pappachan, a member of the ship’s crew, watch television news about the seizure at their home in Kochi, India
Hatching plan . . at 4pm, IRG special forces on board a chopper inspect the Stena Impero, en route to Saudia Arabia with its 23 crew
The armed troops prime their weapons and make final checks as they prepare to storm the British oil tanker below
Soldiers abseil from a hovering helicopter while gunboats surrounding the Impero force it north towards Bandar Abbas
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