Seven of the crew members aboard the Stena Impero Swedish-owned and British-flagged tanker seized by Iran on July 19 will be released. The fate of the other 16 crew members is unclear.
Seven crew members of the Swedish-owned tanker which was seized by Iran on July 19 will be released on humanitarian grounds according to the CEO of Stena Bulk, the company which owns the tanker. The release date has not yet been revealed, and the remaining 16 crew members of the British-flagged tanker will stay on board to safely operate the vessel.
Foreign Ministry Spokesman Abbas Mousavi said on state television on Wednesday that this release came in compliance with Iran's "humane policy." However, the circumstances surrounding the initial seizure of the tanker remain unclear.
Stena Bulk CEO Erik Hanell said he was "cautiously" awaiting confirmation of a definite release date. "We are pleased that for seven crew members their ordeal may soon be over, and they may return to their families." However, ensuring that all 23 crew members make it safely home remains his priority. "We view this communication as a positive step on the way to the release of all the remaining crew, which has always been our primary concern."
The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps of Iran took control of the Stena Impero tanker on July 19, while it was making its way through the Strait of Hormuz, a narrow entry point to the Gulf. Since then then ship has been held offshore near the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas. The tanker's 23 crew members have been detained on board since then.
The seven who are to be released are non-essential personnel, allowing the tanker to still comply with the Minimum Safe Manning Certificate (MSMC) regulations. It is unclear if or when the tanker itself is planned to be returned.
The oil tanker which Iran has detained for nearly three months and which will now have seven of its crew members released
The Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javid Zarif claimed that the tanker had violated maritime laws, while it has also been claimed that the ship was heading in the wrong direction or had even collided with a fishing vessel, neither of which claims have been substantiated. Hanell and Zarif met last month during the foreign minister's tour of the Nordic region.
The Iranian government has denied that the commandeering of the tanker came as an act of retribution for the seizure of Iranian oil tanker Adrian Darya 1 on July 4 as it passed by Gibraltar, under suspicion that it was breaching EU sanctions on oil distribution to Syria. That tanker has since been released back to the Iranian government.
The release date and the fate of the other 16 crew members remains uncertain, but Iranian authorities claim that the seven who are to be released have already left the tanker. They are all Indian nationals.
ed/ng (AFP, AP, Reuters)