Iran releases 7 Indian crew members from seized UK tanker

UK-flagged tanker leaves Iranian port after being held for months

Seven Indian crew members aboard a British-flagged oil tanker seized by Iran in July are being released, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi told state TV on Wednesday.

The Stena Impero was captured by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) in the Strait of Hormuz on July 19 amid increasing hostility between Tehran and Washington. Twenty-three crew members — none of them British — were on board.

“We don’t have any problem with crew and captain of the ship. The ship has been stopped because of its violation of laws and it is natural to detain the crew with the ship,” Mousavi said, according to the semi-official Mehr News Agency.

“However, the consular status and individual permits of the crew were reviewed, and after further consideration and also on humanitarian grounds, some of the crew were allowed to leave the ship and return to daily life,” he added.

The ship was seized two weeks after the UK detained an Iranian tanker off the coast of Gibraltar. UK authorities released that ship in late August.

Iran released a short video of the captured crew in July, showing them talking in a meeting room, operating the ship’s systems and cooking in the vessel’s kitchen.

While the tanker was sailing under a UK flag, the company that operates it is headquartered in Sweden.

The CEO of Stena Bulk, the Swedish company that operates the tanker, told CNN he received confirmation from Iranian authorities late Tuesday night that seven crew members would be released.

Erik Hånell told CNN on Wednesday: “They are still onboard the ship as far as we know, so now we are awaiting more information about when they will be safely transported out of the country.

“We have had an ongoing communication with the Iranian authorities during the last few days, and we hope to get more information today.”

In August, the owner of the Stena Impero met Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif to push for the release of the ship and its crew.

Several Western countries condemned Iran’s seizure of the ship. The Indian government said it was in touch with its counterparts in Iran to try to secure the release of the ship’s Indian crew members.

The UK vowed to take “robust” action if Iran did not release the tanker.

Tehran has tried to free itself from the crippling effects of US economic sanctions imposed by US President Donald Trump after the US withdrew from a landmark nuclear deal in May 2018. In recent months, Iran has taken steps to suspend some of its commitments to the nuclear deal, easing restrictions on uranium enrichment.