Iran Says U.K.-Flagged Stena Oil Tanker Is Free to Leave

Arsalan Shahla and Verity Ratcliffe

(Bloomberg) -- Iran said that a U.K.-registered oil tanker seized more than two months ago is “now free to leave” having completed all legal procedures, as Tehran faces pressure to take conciliatory steps after being blamed for attacks on Saudi oil facilities.

Iran’s ambassador in London, Hamid Baeidinejad, made the announcement in a tweet. But he didn’t specify whether the tanker had left its anchorage near the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas, where it has been held since being seized by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps on July 19.

Earlier on Monday, Erik Hanell, president and chief executive officer of Sweden-based Stena Bulk AB, which owns the vessel, said it is “highly likely” to head to a port in the United Arab Emirates once it has been freed.

He did not immediately respond to calls and messages seeking confirmation that the tanker had been released or was planning to move.

The ship’s remaining crew would be able to disembark once it reaches its first port of call, MTI Network, a crisis media management company working for Stena Bulk, said Sunday. Iran freed seven of the ship’s 23 crew members earlier this month.

Iran seized the Stena Impero shortly after the U.K. detained a vessel in Gibraltar that was allegedly carrying Iranian crude, which the U.S. and British authorities said was destined for Syria. Gibraltar released that ship, which was then renamed the Adrian Darya 1, in August.

The ship has since been accused of sailing to the eastern Mediterranean in order to deliver its cargo to Syria. The U.K. has said selling oil to Syria violates European Union sanctions. Iran has said EU sanctions only apply to its member-states and it sold the oil to a private company while at sea.

Iran has been blamed by the U.S. for being behind a spate of attacks on oil tankers earlier this year, as well as a missile and drone strike on Saudi Aramco oil facilities this month. President Donald Trump last week ordered a moderate boost to U.S. forces in the Gulf after the Aramco attack but has so far avoided a direct military confrontation.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said he’ll seek United Nations support for a regional maritime security initiative to protect shipping in the Persian Gulf -- without Western participation -- while saying tougher U.S. sanctions have undermined efforts at diplomacy with Washington.

To contact the reporters on this story: Arsalan Shahla in Tehran at ashahla@bloomberg.net;Verity Ratcliffe in Dubai at vratcliffe1@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Nayla Razzouk at nrazzouk2@bloomberg.net, Bruce Stanley, Mark Williams

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