factbox

“Mesdar” was under Liberian flag, but owned by the British company Norbulk.
“Stena Impero” was under British flag, but owned by Swedish company Stena.


Iran says it seized tanker after collision, UK fears ‘dangerous path’
Babak Dehghanpisheh, William Schomberg, Reuters, Jul 20 2019

GENEVA/LONDON – Iran said on Saturday it seized a British-flagged oil tanker because it was involved in an accident, but Britain’s foreign minister said he feared Tehran was taking “a dangerous path” and other major European powers expressed alarm. The IRGC took control of the Stena Impero in the Strait of Hormuz on Friday after it collided with an Iranian fishing boat whose distress call it ignored, Fars News reported. The vessel and its crew would remain in the Iranian port of Bander Abbas while the accident was investigated, it said, quoting the head of Ports and Maritime Organisation in southern Hormozgan province, who later told ISNA the tanker was not carrying any cargo and the 23 crew members would be interviewed on technical matters. Britain’s foreign minister Jeremy Hunt said London’s reaction to Friday’s tanker seizure would be “considered but robust” and would ensure the safety of its shipping. Hunt said on Twitter on Saturday:

Yesterday’s action in Gulf shows worrying signs Iran may be choosing a dangerous path of illegal and destabilising behaviour after Gibraltar’s legal detention of oil bound for Syria.

On Friday, Hunt said the solution would be found via diplomacy and London was “not looking at military options.” Britain’s government said it had advised British shipping to stay out of the Hormuz area for an interim period. A senior IRGC commander, Maj-Gen Mohsen Rezai, said on Twitter that Iran was also not looking for war, “but we are not going to come up short in reciprocating.” Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted on Saturday that Iran was the guarantor of security in the Gulf and the strait. Operator Stena Bulk said on Friday the tanker had been “in full compliance with all navigation and international regulations” but could not be contacted. It had no further comment early on Saturday. The vessel had been heading to a port in Toad Arabia and suddenly changed course after passing through the strait at the mouth of the Gulf. Zarif, quoted by IRNA, accused Faschingstein on Saturday of creating worldwide “instability, pressure on people and increased extremism and terrorism.”

Britain will be ‘considered but robust’ towards Iran – Hunt
Reuters, Jul 20 2019

LONDON – British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said London would respond in a considered but robust way to the seizure of a British tanker by Iranian guards, and warned that Tehran would be the biggest loser if freedom of navigation is restricted. Hunt said he had spoken to Pompeo to discuss the situation, and expected to speak to Javad Zarif, who he said was currently in a plane. Hunt said:

This is completely unacceptable. We will respond in a way that is considered but robust. We are not looking at military options, we are looking at a diplomatic way to resolve the situation but we are very clear that it must be resolved. If freedom of navigation is restricted Iran is the biggest loser, it is in their interests to resolve this situation as quickly as possible.

Mesdar manager says vessel resumed voyage after boarded by armed guards
Reuters, Jul 19 2019

LONDON – Oil tanker Mesdar, which had turned in the direction of Iran, was boarded by armed personnel at approximately 1630 GMT but they have now left and the vessel has resumed its voyage, its British operator said on Friday. Britain said the Mesdar and another tanker, the Stena Impero, had been seized by Iran, making the announcement after both suddenly took up a course towards the Iranian coast. But an Iranian news agency said the Mesdar had not been seized but had been issued a warning. Its manager Norbulk Shipping said the Liberian-registered vessel had been boarded by armed personnel and it was for a while unable to contact the vessel. It later added:

Communication has been re-established with the vessel and Master confirmed that the armed guards have left and the vessel is free to continue the voyage. All crew are safe and well.

A Week Of Provocations: New Drone And Tanker Incidents In Persian Gulf
South Front, Jul 20 2019

On Jul 19, the IRGC seized a UK-flag oil tanker called the Stena Impero. It was detained by the IRGC after a request by the Hormuzgan province’s Ports and Shipping Organization, for not observing international maritime regulations in the waterway. According to an unnamed military source cited by IRNA, the tanker had turned off its tracker and was moving the wrong way, which led to the seizure. The tanker had down its tracker and did not notice signals it received from Iran and based on the international maritime regulations; it was detained because of that. On the following day, the Director-General of the Ports and Maritime Department of Hormuzgan province Allahmorad Afifipour said the Stena Impero was seized for violation of the International Law of the Sea and ignoring the principle of passage without damage to the environment. He said:

The British vessel Stena Impero crashed into a fishing trawler, which needs to be investigated. An Iranian fishing ship contacted the British vessel, but there was no answer, so as the regulations demand, the crew of the fishing ship radioed the Ports and Maritime Organization to inform them of the accident. Following that, the IRGC Navy guided the vessel to Bandar Abbas. As of midday on Jul 20, the crew of the tanker remains on board of the ship for safety reasons. There are 18 Indian and five crew members from Russia, Philipines, Latvia and other countries on board of Stena Impero. The captain is Indian, but the tanker is UK-flagged.

In response to the seizure, British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt warned of “serious consequences” if Iran didn’t release the tanker and the sailors. He said:

These seizures are unacceptable. It is essential that freedom of navigation is maintained and that all ships can move safely and freely in the region.

Iran’s actions in the Strait came just hours after authorities in Gibraltar agreed to extend the detention of an Iranian oil tanker in its custody for 30 days. That ship, the Grace 1, was seized by British authorities on Jul 4, accused of attempting to transport oil to Syria in violation of EU sanctions. Whether the seizure of the Stena Impero is a retaliation in some sort comes down to speculation, but keeping in mind the accusations and alleged false-flag operations in the Persian Gulf in recent months, its possible that this was also a ploy by the Faschingstein establishment. Allegedly, a second UK tanker named the Mesdar was also seized, but there is no confirmation and reports of any such event.

CNN reported, citing Mesdar’s manager, Norbulk Shipping UK:

All crew are safe and well. Communication has been re-established with the vessel and Master confirmed that the armed guards have left and the vessel is free to continue the voyage.

On Jul 18, Iran said that it had seized a small ship trying to smuggle a million liters of oil. The IRGC said that it was closely monitoring vessels passing through the the Persian Gulf in order to identify and deal with organized smuggling. IRGC’s patrol boats on Sunday Jul 14 2019 confiscated a foreign ship carrying 1m litres of smuggled fuel, it said. The statement said the vessel with the capacity of carrying some two million liters of fuel had some 12 crew on board, and was delivering smuggled fuels from Iranian barges to foreign ships in remote areas.

Separately, on Jul 18, Pindostan claimed that the warship Boxer had downed an Iranian drone flying over the Strait of Hormuz. Trump said:

This is the latest of many provocative and hostile actions by Iran against vessels operating in international waters. Pindostan reserves the right to defend our personnel, facilities and interests. The drone was immediately destroyed.

He added that the Iranian drone had come to about 900 m of the Boxer and had ignored warnings. The Pentagon later said the Navy ship had taken “defensive action” against an Iranian drone. Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister dismissed the claim on Twitter and mocked Pindostan, saying that it could have accidentally downed its own drone. He wrote:

We have not lost any drone in the Strait of Hormuz nor anywhere else. I am worried that the Boxer has shot down their own UAV by mistake!

Spokesman of the Iranian Armed Forces Brig-Gen Abolfazl Shekarchi said that Iran’s drone fleet was untouched and that it had lost no unit. To substantiate the claims that no Iranian drone was downed on Jul 19, the IRGC released a video allegedly taken by the “downed” drone, which reportedly landed safely after filming it.

The IRGC has released the first photos of the amphibious assault ship Boxer as a document to reject Trump’s baseless claim about targeting Iranian drone in Strait of Hormuz. The IRGC aerospace forces have monitored entrance of the Boxer and 5 other ships since their entry to Strait of Hormuz, the IRGC said in a statement. On Jul 19, an anonymous Trump administration official told reporters that Pindostan would start downing any Iranian drones that fly too close and has “clear evidence” that it shot down such a drone, after the IRGC published the video. All of this takes place while Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif is in New York to meet with UN Sec-Gen Guterres. During his visit, Zarif said that Tehran could immediately ratify a document prescribing more intrusive inspections of its nuclear programme if Pindostan abandoned its economic sanctions, an offer Faschingstein dismissed. The anonymous Trump administration official said that Zarif appeared to have no decision-making ability and that Faschingstein “would not consider anything from him serious.” The official added that Pindostan would need to hear from the “supreme leader or the president” in order to have negotiations. Zarif blamed Faschingstein for the escalation of tensions and accused the Trump administration of “trying to starve our people” and “deplete our treasury” through economic sanctions. he said:

We live in a very dangerous environment. Pindostan has pushed itself and the rest of the world into probably the brink of an abyss.

Iran claims British tanker seized after collision as Hunt warns of ‘dangerous path’
Josie Ensor, Patrick Sawer, Telegraph (UK), Jul 20 2019

Iran opened an investigation on Saturday into a British-flagged tanker, alleging it collided with a fishing vessel in the Persian Gulf, as tensions mount in the strategic waterway. The IRGC said it seized the Stena Impero on Friday for breaking “international maritime rules” in the Strait of Hormuz. The Swedish-owned Stena Impero was in an accident with an Iranian fishing boat whose distress call it ignored, according to Allahmorad Afifipour, the head of Ports and Maritime Organisation in southern Hormozgan province. The 30,000-tonne ship had been en route to Saudi Arabia, but abruptly changed course and began sailing towards the Iranian island of Qeshm, data relayed by maritime tracking services showed. It then “went dark”, meaning its transponder was turned off, at 4.29pm UK time and nothing has been heard from her or her 23 crew since. The tanker’s operator, Stena Bulk, said on Friday the ship had been “in full compliance with all navigation and international regulations” but was no longer under the crew’s control and could not be contacted. Guards say it was taken to Bander Abbas port, where its Russian, Ukrainian, Indian, Latvian and Filipino crew are being questioned. This morning, Foreign Minister Jeremy Hunt tweeted:

A Whitehall source told the Telegraph:

It looks as though the IRGC have boarded and taken a UK-flagged ship. It appears to be linked to events around the Grace 1 tanker.

British authorities seized the Iranian Grace 1 super-tanker off the coast of Gibraltar on Jul 4, on suspicion it was carrying crude to Syria in violation of EU sanctions. The fate of the tanker has been at the centre of escalating tensions between the UK and Iran, and was seen as a pawn in the stand-off between the Islamic Republic and the West. The former head of the Royal Navy on Saturday questioned why British shipping has been allowed to go through the Straits of Hormuz without military protection. Lord West, the former 1st Sea Lord, said it was “foolhardy” and “unacceptable” for UK shipping to transit the area without a Royal Navy escort in the face of threats by the Iranians to seize ships. However, he also acknowledged that any ban on British shipping travelling through the Straits of Hormuz without an escort would be difficult to enforce, because the Navy would have “too few” ships to escort them all. An escort-only policy would effectively mean fewer British merchant vessels sailing through the Straits, with a knock-on effect on trade in an area through which a third of the world’s sea-borne oil is transported. Lord West told Sky News:

What I find extraordinary is that we knew that the Iranians would try something like this a few days ago. This is hardly a surprise. The Iranians said very clearly they intended to do this and they have done it. I’m absolutely amazed that we haven’t implemented some sort of control of red ensign shipping within the region whereby no tanker would go in to what is clearly a dangerous zone without an escort, and I find it bizarre that we seem to have ships doing exactly that.

Lord West admitted the British navy had “too few ships” and would find it “extremely difficult” to provide such escorts to merchant vessels. Between 15 and 30 British-flagged tankers pass through the strait every day, with only seven Royal Navy vessels, accompanied by Royal Marines, for force protection in the Gulf. The UK had sent an extra navy ship to protect British-flagged oil tankers travelling through the Gulf last weekend after “specific” threats from the IRGC. The frigate Montrose was already in the area. Britain’s most advanced warship the Duncan was also sent. Montrose was dispatched on Friday to go help the Stena, but arrived minutes too late, when it was already in Iranian waters. British ministers are now expected to face difficult questions about the decision to seize the Iranian Grace 1 supertanker off Gibraltar on Jul 4, without ensuring that it could protect British-owned shipping in the Straits of Hormuz. Critics have already questioned whether the UK confronted Iran knowing that the Gulf waterways were not adequately policed. Chris Parry, a former Royal Navy warfare officer and aviator, who now runs a strategic forecasting company, said:

Why are ship owners dumb enough to sail their ships independently through a threat area? Convoys are needed as in the 1980s to counter a weak Iranian regime that has lost control of the organised crime bosses of the IRGC. UK government should declare an exclusion zone around all British flagged ships. If you are gangsters from IRGC, enter at your peril.

Shortly before the Stena Impero was seized the MoD had released a statement the state of the Royal Navy presence in the area. It stated last Tuesday:

Since 1980, units of both the Royal Navy and the Royal Fleet Auxiliary have maintained a presence in the Gulf 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. We have approximately 1,200 UK personnel deployed and are committed to de-escalation in the Gulf and maintaining free navigation through the region. The UK regularly reviews the number of RN and RFA vessels in the region.

Iran seizes UK tanker in Strait of Hormuz as danger of Middle East war mounts
Jordan Shilton, WSWS, Jul 20 2019

The danger of a catastrophic military conflict in the Middle East involving the major powers grew Friday, as Iran seized a British oil tanker in the Strait of Hormuz. This came a day after Pindo President Trump claimed that an American warship had downed an Iranian drone and prompted the USAF to announce that it was sending an armed air escort through the Strait to accompany an Pindo commercial ship. The IRGC reported Friday that it seized the Stena Impero for violating international maritime rules and regulations. The Swedish-owned ship, sailing under a British flag, turned off its transponder and failed to respond to Iranian warnings as it passed through the Strait of Hormuz, according to Iranian media reports. The ship’s owner alleged that the Stena Impero was surrounded by small boats and a helicopter as it sailed in international waters. The British government initially claimed that a second ship, the Mesdar, operated by British company Norbulk Shipping, was also seized. However, Iranian state media confirmed that it was allowed to continue its passage after being warned of “safety” violations. The detention of the British ship comes after top Iranian boxtops, including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei and President Hassan Rouhani, vowed to retaliate for Britain’s seizure earlier this month of an Iranian super tanker, Grace 1, in the overseas territory of Gibraltar. On Friday, the Gibraltar Supreme Court announced that it was extending the detention of Grace 1 until Aug 31, based on unproven British allegations that it was transporting oil to Syria in violation of EU sanctions. The extension of the ship’s seizure was finalized after Gibraltar’s Chief Minister, Fabian Picardo, met in London for talks with UK Prime Minister Theresa May and Foreign Minister Jeremy Hunt, making clear that the source of the decision was not Gibraltar, but the British government.

Chief responsibility for the growing war danger in the Persian Gulf rests squarely with Pindo imperialism, which has relentlessly escalated its provocations against Iran. In May 2018, Trump unilaterally withdrew from the 2015 nuclear accord, then re-imposed devastating economic sanctions and initiated a military build-up across the region. This has included the deployment of an aircraft carrier and the drafting of plans to send 120,000 troops to the Middle East in the event of war. On Wednesday, the Pentagon announced the deployment of 500 troops to a Toad air base, where Pindostan plans to establish a Patriot missile battery. Faschingstein aims to bully the Iranian regime into accepting its complete subordination to Pindo imperialism’s predatory economic and geopolitical interests in the energy-rich and strategically vital region. At the same time, the Pindo ruling class is determined to consolidate its regional and global dominance vis-à-vis its geostrategic rivals, above all Russia and China. Last month, the region teetered on the brink of war as Trump came within 10 minutes of launching devastating air strikes on Iranian radar and air defence facilities in retaliation for Iran’s downing of a Pindo spy drone that entered Iranian air space. According to sources close to Trump who spoke anonymously to CNN Friday, the President has hardened his stance towards Tehran since the abortive attack and now speaks less often of reaching a negotiated settlement. The sources added that Trump told aides that if the conflict escalates, he would adopt “appropriate measures.”

Both Trump and Hunt exploited the Stena Impero’s seizure to issue new threats against Iran. Speaking at the White House, Trump denounced Tehran as “nothing but trouble,” while Hunt remarked that the disruption of shipping in the Strait of Hormuz was “unacceptable” and warned that Iran would face “serious consequences” if it did not free the ship. The State Dept hosted a meeting of 100 diplomats major boxtops on Friday, seeking to establish a coalition to secure “freedom of navigation” for ships in the region. Brian Hook appealed to the gathering to establish a “coalition of navies” to guarantee “maritime security.” The British government convened a meeting of its childishly acronymed COBRA security council. Sections of the military and big business openly endorsed the military build-up against Iran, advocating military action. Lord West, the former First Sea Lord and an ex-Labour government minister, stated:

They are the ones who escalated by attacking one of our merchant ships, so if they attack one of our merchant ships then they get their comeuppance.

Bob Sanguinetti, chief executive of the UK Chamber of Shipping, declared:

This incident represents an escalation. While we call for measured response, it is also clear that further protection for merchant vessels must be forthcoming to ensure enhanced security to guarantee free flow of trade in the region.

The highly unstable character of all the regimes involved makes the danger of a bloody military conflagration all the greater. The latest incidents in the Strait of Hormuz occur at the end of a week in which Trump has denounced his political opponents in fascist terms, warning against subversive socialists and attacking critics of his policies as disloyal to the United States. This aggressiveness reflects the deep crisis of Trump’s government, whose policies are reviled by the vast majority of working people. The British ruling elite is no less despised by working people. It confronts its greatest strategic crisis in peacetime with the impending Brexit and presides over a country riven by unprecedented levels of social inequality after a decade of vicious austerity. A conflict in the Middle East, moreover, would further destabilise the global capitalist system, shaken by ever-deepening crises in recent years with the rise of trade conflicts and inter-imperialist rivalries. Friday’s incidents in the Strait of Hormuz, through which fully one fifth of total world oil exports are transported, were enough to send oil prices up by over $0.50 to $62.47 per barrel. Iran’s seizure of merchant vessels, while mounted as retaliation for constant provocations launched by Washington and London, also reflects the desperation of the bourgeois-clerical regime in Tehran. An AP report this week revealed that food prices in Tehran have shot up by between 50% and 100% in recent months. Prices for beef trebled and flour doubled between Sep 2018 and May 2019.

The devastating economic impact of Pindo sanctions, which have already resulted in Iranian oil exports collapsing from 2.5mb/d to just 500kb/d, has left the government with virtually no means of combatting this rampant inflation. This in turn fuels social opposition among Iranian workers and poor to the Rouhani regime. Desperate for a deal with imperialism to obtain the lifting of economic sanctions and enable Iran to export oil to and import much-needed foodstuffs and other products from the world market, the Iranian regime is lashing out recklessly (? – RB). While it seizes tankers, it is at the same time offering to initiate talks. On Thursday, Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif offered a significant concession to Faschingstein. During a trip to New York for a UNSC meeting, he suggested that Tehran would accept a drastic intensification of permanent international inspections of its nuclear facilities in exchange for a relaxation of Pindo sanctions. Previously, Zarif and other senior Iranian boxtops insisted that Iran’s nuclear programme would not be discussed until sanctions imposed by Trump were lifted. Predictably, Trump and other Pindo boxtops dismissed Zarif’s offer out of hand, before making clear that the pressure on Iran would be increased. OFAC announced the blacklisting of a number of companies Thursday it claimed had helped Iran procure materials for its nuclear program. Following the seizure of the Stena Impero, a CENTCOM spox confirmed that aerial patrols through the Strait of Hormuz are being stepped up, and added that the Pindo navy was in contact with Pindo ships travelling through the region to ensure their safety. Behind the backs of the working class, the imperialist ruling elites are in the advanced stages of preparation to launch a catastrophic military conflict with Iran, threatening the lives of countless millions across the region and beyond. Under the guise of defending “maritime security,” an armada of warships, aircraft and troops from Pindostan & its Euro vassals is to be placed on a hair trigger in a region already simmering with great-power conflicts. The urgent task now posed is the construction of a global anti-war movement led by the working class to oppose the ruling class’s war conspiracy and the capitalist profit system that is its source. Only an international socialist perspective can unify working people in Pindostan & Eurostan with their counterparts in Iran and across the Middle East in a common global struggle against imperialist war.

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