British Vessels Ply Strait Where Iran Seized Tanker

A Revolutionary Guard speedboat circles the British-flagged oil tanker Stena Impero in the Strait of Hormuz on Friday. (Morteza Akhoondi/Tasnim News Agency via AP)

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — A large British-flagged tanker, accompanied by a warship, transited the Strait of Hormuz and arrived at a port in Qatar on Wednesday in the first such passage made by a British ship of its size since Iran seized a U.K.-flagged tanker last week, according to maritime tracking data.

Maritime publication Lloyd’s List identified the vessel as the BW Elm and reported that a British warship, likely the HMS Montrose, closely shadowed the large liquefied petroleum gas carrier but that the Royal Navy did not provide a direct escort.

The Ministry of Defense declined to specifically comment on the transit and referred to recent comments made by Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, in which he confirmed that the HMS Montrose has accompanied more than 30 ships in the past 10 days through the strait.

Britain this week announced plans to develop and deploy a Europe-led “maritime protection mission” to safeguard shipping in the area. It comes as Boris Johnson assumes office as prime minister on Wednesday.

One-fifth of global crude passes through the shipping corridor, making it an internationally important chokepoint for global energy supplies from Gulf exporters.

Data on tracking site Marine Traffic showed the commercial BW Elm arrived at a port in Qatar early Wednesday after transiting the strait on Tuesday. The U.K. government has advised British-flagged ships to avoid the Strait of Hormuz.

In a statement to the AP, the ship’s owner, BW LPG, declined to comment on specifics, but noted protection by the navy.

“BW LPG is grateful for the UK and international community for their naval presence in the area providing security to merchant vessels transiting through the Straits of Hormuz,” the company said, adding that it is operating “at our highest security protocol.”

Iran’s seizure of the British-flagged Stena Impero and its crew of 23 on Friday heightened tensions in the Persian Gulf after a spate of incidents that have threatened security in the Strait of Hormuz, which lies between Iran and Oman.

In past weeks, Iran has shot down a U.S. spy drone, U.S. officials say military cyberforces struck Iranian computer systems that handle missile and rocket launchers, and six oil tankers were sabotaged near the strait.

Iranian officials reiterated their denial that any Iranian drones were intercepted, after the U.S. military said Tuesday that it took aim at two of them last week.

U.S. Central Command said one Iranian drone crashed into the sea after the USS Boxer took “defensive action” against it last Thursday. It said the Boxer “engaged” a second Iranian drone at the same time, but could not confirm it was destroyed.

Iran’s defense minister, Gen. Amir Hatami, told reporters Wednesday that “if someone claims he should provide evidence,” adding that “none of our drones have been intercepted.”

The tensions stem from President Trump’s decision last year to pull the United States from Iran’s nuclear accord with world powers and reinstate sweeping sanctions. The United States has also expanded its military presence in the region.

Iranian officials have said the Stena Impero was seized after it violated international maritime law by turning off its signaling for longer than is allowed and passing through the wrong channels.

However, Iranian officials also suggested the ship was seized in response to Britain’s role in impounding an Iranian supertanker two weeks earlier off the coast of Gibraltar, a British overseas territory. The U.K. says the tanker was suspected of violating sanctions on oil shipments to Syria.

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