US demands Iran free seized ship, vows to protect Gulf oil lifeline

Iranian boats tried to impede a British oil tanker near the Gulf this month — before being driven off by a British warship. (AFP file photo)
Updated 19 July 2019

US demands Iran free seized ship, vows to protect Gulf oil lifeline

  • Washington blames Iran for a series of attacks on shipping since mid-May in the world’s most important oil artery

DUBAI: The US on Thursday demanded Iran immediately release a vessel it seized in the Gulf and a US military commander in the region said the US would work “aggressively” to ensure free passage of vessels through the vital waterway.

Responding to an announcement by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards that they had seized a foreign tanker smuggling fuel, the US State Department insisted Iran had to free the ship and its crew and stop harassing vessels in and around the Strait of Hormuz.

The US blames Iran for a series of attacks on shipping since mid-May in the world’s most important oil artery, accusations Tehran rejects but that have raised fears the long-time foes could stumble into war.

“The United States strongly condemns the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy’s continued harassment of vessels and interference with safe passage in and around the Strait of Hormuz,” a State Department spokesperson said in an email to Reuters.

“Iran must cease this illicit activity and release the reportedly seized crew and vessel immediately.”

Refinitiv data showed that the last signal received from the vessel was on Sunday when it was in the Strait of Hormuz off the Iranian island of Qeshm, heading toward Oman from Larak Island.

It was reported on Wednesday that shipping companies were hiring unarmed security guards for voyages through the Gulf as an extra safeguard.

US Central Command chief Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, meanwhile, said Washington was talking to several countries about ensuring freedom of navigation in the Gulf and would work “aggressively” to find a solution to enable free passage. He was speaking in Riyadh at a news conference.

Also on Thursday, Britain urged Iran to ease tensions in the Gulf on Thursday and Defense Secretary Penny Mordaunt told a defense conference Britain had “always, and we will continue, to protect shipping and the free flow of goods in that area.”


Turkey sends armed drone to northern Cyprus amid gas dispute

Updated 12 min 13 sec ago

Turkey sends armed drone to northern Cyprus amid gas dispute

  • The breakaway northern Cyprus government approved the use of the airport for unmanned aerial vehicles
  • A recent agreement between Turkey and Libya claims extensive areas of sea for Turkey in the Mediterranean

FAMAGUSTA, Cyprus: A Turkish military drone was delivered to northern Cyprus on Monday amid growing tensions over Turkey’s deal with Libya that extended its claims to the gas-rich eastern Mediterranean.
The Bayraktar TB2 drone landed in Gecitkale Airport in Famagusta around 0700 GMT, an AFP correspondent said, after the breakaway northern Cyprus government approved the use of the airport for unmanned aerial vehicles.
It followed a deal signed last month between Libya and Turkey that could prove crucial in the scramble for recently discovered gas reserves in the eastern Mediterranean.
The agreement claimed extensive areas of the sea for Turkey, undercutting claims by Greece and the internationally recognized Republic of Cyprus, which runs the southern part of the island.
Analysts say Turkey was pushing back against rival efforts to claim exploration rights in the area after Cyprus, Greece, Egypt and Israel excluded Turkey from a new “East Mediterranean Gas Forum” that also includes Jordan, Italy and the Palestinian territories.
The Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), which is only recognized by Turkey, said approval for the drone was given last week “in light of the latest developments in the eastern Mediterranean region” and “to protect the legitimate rights and interests of the TRNC and Turkey.”
The TRNC’s transport minister, Tolga Atakan, said Turkish drones were partly a response to the acquisition of Israeli drones by Cyprus in October to monitor its exclusive economic zone.
Cyprus has been divided since Turkish troops occupied the northern third of the island in 1974 in response to a coup sponsored by the Greek military junta.
Turkey already has two drilling vessels in the eastern Mediterranean despite the threat of European Union sanctions.
Ankara does not recognize the Republic of Cyprus, an EU member, and says the TRNC has the right to explore around the entire island.