DUABAI, STOCKHOLM: A British-flagged tanker that was detained by Iran for 10 weeks, docked in Dubai on Saturday, after a standoff that has stoked tensions along a vital global shipping route for oil. The Stena Impero, which sailed out of Iranian waters on Friday, was seized by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards on July 19, shortly after British forces detained an Iranian tanker off the territory of Gibraltar. The Iranian ship was released in August.
The Stena Impero docked at Dubai’s Port Rashid, a Reuters photographer reported from the harbor.
Erik Hanell, the chief executive of Sweden’s Stena Bulk, which owns the ship, told Reuters in Stockholm in a text message earlier in the day that the tanker was “finally approaching berth in Dubai.”
Stena Bulk said the crew would receive medical checks and would be de-briefed in Dubai, which lies across the Gulf from Iran, before traveling home to their families. Seven of the 23 crew were freed earlier this month.
The crew who were still on the vessel came from India, Russia and the Philippines, a Stena Bulk spokesman said before the ship had docked.
“The crew are in high spirits, understandably. They will be checked by medical professionals once ashore, but the captain has informed us all are in good health,” he said.
The seizure of the vessel, which the Iranian authorities said was for marine violations, followed attacks on other merchant tankers in Gulf waters in May and June. The US blamed those attacks on Iran, which Tehran denied. Relations between Iran and the US and its allies have deteriorated since Washington withdrew last year from a global agreement to rein in Tehran’s nuclear work and imposed sanctions aimed at shutting down Iranian oil exports.
The ship’s seizure was widely seen as a tit-for-tat move after authorities in the British overseas territory of Gibraltar detained an Iranian tanker on suspicion it was shipping oil to Syria in breach of EU sanctions. Tehran repeatedly denied the cases were related.
The Stena Impero sailed from Iran and into international waters of the Gulf on Friday morning, according to local authorities.
“Despite the vessel’s clearance, its legal case is still open in Iran’s courts,” Hormozgan province’s maritime organization in southern Iran said on its website.
The tanker’s captain and crew have “given a written, official statement that they have no claims,” it added.
The vessel arrived off Dubai shortly after midnight local time (20:00 GMT) and halted in the busy waterway overnight, said ship tracking website MarineTraffic.com.
It began heading to its anchorage in the emirate on Saturday, according to the website which said it was “underway using engine.”
The CEO of Stena Bulk, the Swedish company that owns the vessel, said the ship’s sailing was “obviously a relief” and that the priority now was those on board.
“When we reach Dubai we will firstly take care of the crew and then try and get the ship in operational order again,” he told AFP on Friday.
Photos released by the Iranian agency Fars News on Saturday showed the black and red-hulled tanker sailing from Bandar Abbas in southern Iran the previous day.
The images also showed the captain apparently signing the ship’s release documents before it left port, and the crew — dressed in red overalls and safety gear — lifting anchor ahead of the journey.
The tanker’s crew are “safe and in high spirits” and arrangements have been made for them to return to their families upon arrival in Dubai, Hannel said earlier.
“The crew will have a period of time to be with their families following 10 weeks of detainment on the vessel. Full support will be offered to the crew and families in the coming weeks to assist with their recovery,” he added. The company did not release the names of the crew members.
Iran’s Revolutionary Guards seized the vessel in the Strait of Hormuz on July 19 after surrounding it with attack boats and rappelling onto its deck.
It was impounded off the port of Bandar Abbas for allegedly failing to respond to distress calls and turning off its transponder after hitting a fishing boat.
Seven of its 23 crew members were released on Sept. 4. British Foreign Secretary Domini Raab said the tanker was “unlawfully seized by Iran” as part of its attempts to “disrupt freedom of navigation.” Tensions have risen in the Gulf since May last year when President Donald Trump unilaterally abandoned a 2015 nuclear deal between major powers and Iran and began reimposing crippling sanctions in a campaign of “maximum pressure.”
They flared again this May when Iran began reducing its own commitments under the deal and the US deployed military assets to the region.
Since then, ships have been attacked, drones downed and oil tankers seized. In June, Trump called off air strikes against Iran at the last minute after the Islamic republic’s forces shot down a US drone. This month, twin attacks on Saudi oil infrastructure, which knocked out half the kingdom’s production, drew accusations of blame not only from Washington but also from its European allies. Tehran has denied any involvement in the attacks which were claimed by Iran-backed rebels fighting a Saudi-led coalition in Yemen.
The US has since formed a coalition with its allies Australia, Bahrain, Britain, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to escort commercial shipping in the Gulf.
Tehran has warned that the planned US-led International Maritime Security Construct will cause more, not less instability and has proposed a rival security plan of its own.
Speaking at the UN General Assembly in New York, President Hassan Rouhani this week announced a plan called “Hormuz Peace Endeavour” or “HOPE.”
He gave no details but called on all of Iran’s Gulf neighbors to join, saying: “Security cannot be provided with American weapons and intervention.”
Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted Thursday that the plan calls for “dialogue, confidence-building, freedom of navigation, energy security, non-aggression, non-intervention.”