Under the growing weight of U.S. and U.K. sanctions, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard boarded and seized two tanker ships sailing through the Strait of Hormuz, on Friday, July 19.
The first vessel, a British tanker Stena Impero, sailing under a British flag, was fired upon before being boarded. The Iranian military seized control of the vessel and has diverted its course deep into Iranian waters.
Iran claims that the British vessel was “violating international maritime rules.” However, a conflicting report indicates that the tanker was seized in retaliation for the British navy seizing an Iranian tanker in Gibraltar two weeks ago. The British navy suspected the Iranian tanker might be shipping oil to Syria in violation of sanctions imposed by the European Union.
According to Iranian news agency ISNA, the British tanker is being held in custody.
The second vessel, an oil tanker under the Liberian flag, was also boarded and searched, but soon released and allowed to resume its prior course.
UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt called Iran’s action “a dangerous path” that is “illegal and destabilizing.” Hunt said that he would pursue a diplomatic resolution, in the hopes of avoiding an escalated conflict. However, he also warned of “serious consequences” if the tanker is not released.
Britain’s Defense Secretary Penny Mordaunt described the seizure as a “hostile act.” The UK government is meeting this weekend to discuss measures to guarantee the safety of British shipping vessels in the region.
The United States has reportedly begun flying military aircraft, including F-18 fighters, above international shipping lanes, in order to protect American ships. The United States also has placed destroyers at both ends of the strait that may be authorized to intervene if an American-flagged vessel comes under attack.