(CNN)Iran has released nine of the 12 Indian crew members who were on board a Panamanian-flagged oil tanker it seized after claiming the vessel was carrying 1 million liters of smuggled fuel.
The move comes as Iran granted consular access to 18 Indian crew members of a separate vessel, the seized British-flagged oil tanker Stena Impero.Iran releases footage of captured tanker's crewThe nine sailors were released from the vessel M/T RIAH, the Indian Ministry for External Affairs spokesman Raveesh Kumar confirmed in a statement Friday. “They will be on their way to India soon,” Kumar said. “Our mission in Iran has requested the concerned Iranian authorities for the release of remaining crew members.”Iranian state media said Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) forces ambushed the tanker on July 14. The IRGC said it had initially responded to distress calls from a ship but when they searched it, they discovered it was a fuel smuggling operation, so they seized the tanker, which had 12 people on board. Read MoreUS intelligence have been investigating what happened to the M/T RIAH.And last week, Press TV released video purporting to show the tanker with markings saying “RIAH” and “Panama.”US intelligence officials have been investigating what happened to the M/T RIAH. The ship-tracking website Marine Vessel Traffic has not had a current location for the tanker since July 7.After US intelligence raised fears that the ship had been forced into Iranian waters last weekend, Iran said that it had assisted one vessel suffering a technical glitch.It remains unclear who owns the ship. While the initial US intelligence suggested that the tanker was UAE-owned, the United Arab Emirates has said that the tanker in question was “neither owned nor operated by the UAE. It does not carry Emirati personnel, and did not emit a distress call,” according to state-run WAM.Consular access Meanwhile, Iran’s Ambassador to the UK, Hamid Baeidinejad, said Thursday that the Indian Embassy in Tehran had been granted consular access to 18 Indian crew members on board the British-flagged oil tanker Stena Impero, seized by Iran in the Strait of Hormuz last week. “Indian Embassy in Tehran was granted consular access to meet the 18 Indian crew of the detained British ship Stena Impero,” Baeidinejad said on Twitter. “Similar access is underway to other 5 crew from other nationalities. Indian embassy has reported to find the crew being very calm with no sense of panic.”Indian Minister of State for External Affairs, V. Muraleedharan, on Thursday tweeted a picture of Stena Impero’s crew, who hail from India, Latvia, the Philippines and Russia.”Received an update on ‘Stena Impero.’ Our Embassy availed consular access today evening. All 18 Indian crew members on board are safe and doing fine. Will continue to push for their early release,” the tweet said.
Received an update on ‘Stena Impero’. Our Embassy availed consular access today evening. All 18 Indian crew members on board are safe and doing fine. Will continue to push for their early release. @narendramodi @PMOIndia @AmitShah @DrSJaishankar @MEAIndia @VMBJP pic.twitter.com/YqtFupLuZA
— V. Muraleedharan (@MOS_MEA) July 25, 2019 A spokesperson for Stena Bulk, the company that operates the tanker, said it was in contact with both the UK and Swedish governments and that local staff in the crew’s four home countries were “in constant touch with the families” of the crew and will “continue to do everything humanly possible to keep them informed and to support them in every way we can.”The capturing of the tanker marked another escalation in the tense standoff between Iran and Western powers following US President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal last year.The UK was a party to the 2015 agreement that curbed Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief. The British government has made attempts to save the deal alongside France and Germany, the two other European signatories.But following the tanker’s capture, the UK warned Iran that it would take “robust” action in response to the incident. Iran’s elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps — whose troops captured the ship — accused the vessel of “violating international regulations.”The UK denies this and said the Stena Impero was within Omani territorial waters exercising “the lawful right of transit passage in an international strait.” Increase in tensionsThe seizure of the Stena Impero came just hours after authorities in Gibraltar agreed to extend the detention of an Iranian oil tanker in its custody for 30 days.The UK and Gibraltar seized the Iran-flagged tanker Grace 1 in early July. UK authorities alleged the tanker was attempting to transport oil to Syria, a violation of EU sanctions.On Thursday, Indian External Affairs ministry spokesman Kumar said an Indian delegation had been granted consular access to the 24-member Indian crew.
@HCI_London team met the Indian crew/staff on board VLCC Grace 1 yesterday. Crew’s morale is high. Assured all assistance for early release. HCI London will facilitate necessary travel document and related arrangements. @narendramodi @PMOIndia @AmitShah @DrSJaishankar @MEAIndia pic.twitter.com/xEMsJpNeDo
— V. Muraleedharan (@MOS_MEA) July 25, 2019 “What we saw was that the crew members were very calm, very composed, and there was no sense of panic. They had been in regular touch with their family members. We had assured them that the government of India will undertake all the necessary steps to ensure their early release and repatriation,” Kumar said. Tensions in the Strait of Hormuz May 8, 2018 Trump announces he is pulling out of the nuclear deal with Iran, adding he will initiate new sanctions. “Any nation that helps Iran in its quest for nuclear weapons could also be strongly sanctioned by the United States,” Trump says. November 5, 2018 The United States officially reimposes all sanctions lifted under 2015 Iran nuclear deal. Rouhani vowed to continue oil exports, saying Iran will “proudly break the unjust sanctions.” April 8, 2019 Trump announces the United States will formally designate Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a Foreign Terrorist Organization, a move some in the administration had opposed over concerns about potential risks to US troops in the Middle East. June 2019 According to US officials, the US launches two cyber attacks on Iran. One attack was a retaliatory cyberstrike against an Iranian spy group. The other attack was on an Iranian proxy group with forces in Iraq, Syria and inside Iran in the days after Iran shot down a US drone. June 20, 2019 Iran shoots down a United States military drone. Iran’s Revolutionary Guard claims that the drone was shot down after it entered the country’s territory, while the US claims the drone was shot down in international airspace. June 24, 2019 Trump announces new sanctions against Iran in part to retaliate after the downing of a US drone the previous week, with the punitive measures set to target Iran’s Supreme Leader, military officials and its top diplomat, Foreign Minister Javad Zarif. July 1, 2019 Zarif announces that Iran’s stockpiles of enriched low-grade uranium have exceeded the 300-kilogram limit set in a landmark 2015 nuclear deal. July 4, 2019 The Iranian oil-carrying vessel Grace 1 is seized by British authorities near Gibralter. Gibraltar’s territorial authorities had reason to believe the ship was “carrying its shipment of crude oil to the Baniyas Refinery in Syria” in violation of European Union sanctions, it said in a statement. Iran called the act “piracy.” July 10, 2019 Armed Iranian boats try unsuccessfully to impede the passage of a British oil tanker in the Persian Gulf, according to two US officials with direct knowledge of the incident. July 14, 2019 Over the weekend, Iran seizes an oil tanker that it claimed was carrying 1 million liters of “smuggled fuel,” according to state news agency Press TV. July 18, 2019 US officials say the US Navy has destroyed an Iranian drone using electronic jamming, in a defensive action after it came too close to naval ship USS Boxer took. However, Iranian officials deny that any of their drones have been downed. July 19, 2019 Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) announces that its navy has captured the British-flagged oil tanker, Stena Impero. It accuses the British tanker of “violating international regulations.” A second tanker, the Liberian flagged MV Mesdar, was also seized, one US official tells CNN.
The recent increase in tensions in the Strait of Hormuz could have dire economic and security consequences. Around 24% of global oil production passes through the narrow passage, and it’s the only way to ship oil out of the Persian Gulf. The US Energy Information Administration calls the Strait of Hormuz one of the “world’s most important strategic chokepoints by volume of oil transit.”