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Stena Impero: How tensions reached this point and what happens next

Tensions between the UK and Iran show no sign of easing thanks to the latest drama in the Gulf, which saw a British-flagged oil tanker seized by Tehran as it sailed through the Strait of Hormuz.

Prime Minister Theresa May will chair what should be her final Cobra emergency committee meeting to formulate a response, which could result in sanctions being issued.

Here is a timeline of how the situation unfolded.

Iranian Revolutionary Guards patrolling around the British-flagged tanker Stena Impero off the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas
Image: Iranian Revolutionary Guards patrolling around the oil tanker off the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas


The Stena Impero, registered in the UK, was anchored at Fujairah on the east coast of the United Arab Emirates.


It was reported to have left there at 12.20pm, bound for the Saudi Arabian industrial city of Jubail, with an expected arrival time of 1pm on Sunday.

The Stena Impero has been seized in the Strait of Hormuz
Image: The Stena Impero has been seized in the Strait of Hormuz


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The oil tanker, which has 23 crew from India, Latvia, Russia and the Philippines, was well on its way to its destination until its course shifted north towards the coast of Iran.

It had been passing westward through the Strait of Hormuz, and was approached by unidentified small crafts and a helicopter at around 4pm UK time.

Some 40 minutes later, there was a similar course shift by the UK-operated, Liberian-flagged Mesdar.

That crew was allowed to continue their voyage a few hours later after the ship was boarded by armed guards.

The Stena Impero has been seen in satellite images. Pic: TankerTrackers
Image: The Stena Impero has been seen in satellite images. Pic: TankerTrackers


There was still no contact from the crew of the Stena Impero by the early hours of Saturday, but by sunrise it had emerged that the ship had been taken to the Bandar Abbas port in Iran.

Iranian agency Fars News said it had been involved in an accident with a fishing boat and failed to stop after a distress call was issued, but that version of events was dismissed by Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt.

He tweeted at 8am that Iran looked like it was choosing a "dangerous path of illegal and destabilising behaviour".

Foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt MP has been in a Cobra meeting discussing what 'further measures' will be taken
Hunt tells Iran: 'We need that tanker released'

The Iranian Guardian Council, a powerful constitutional watchdog, said the seizure of a British-flagged oil tanker was in response to Britain seizing an Iranian tanker earlier this month.

Iran also released footage of the Stena Impero at Bandar Abbas, with all the crew said to be in "good health".

Defence secretary Penny Mordaunt MP said the Iranian seizure of the British-flagged oil tanker as a 'hostile and agressive act'
Defence Secretary Penny Mordaunt: Seizure of tanker 'is a hostile act'


With the Stena Impero still being held, new audio was released of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and the Royal Navy both giving instructions to the ship before it was seized.

In the recording, an Iranian officer can be heard telling the vessel: "If you obey, you will be safe. Alter your course to 360 degrees immediately, over."

Tanker told: 'If you obey, you will be safe'

Then a British officer from the HMS Montrose, patrolling the area, said: "This is British warship F236. I reiterate, that as you are conducting transit passage in a recognised international strait, under international law your passage must not be impaired, impeded, obstructed or hampered.

"Please confirm you are conducting transit passage in a recognised international strait."

The Royal Navy later ask the Iranians: "Please confirm you are not intending to violate international law by unlawfully attempting to board the MV Stena."

The Iranians then repeat their request for the tanker to turn around.

Armed Iranian troops storm British-flagged oil tanker


The prime minister will chair a meeting of the emergency Cobra committee, where she will receive updates from officials and ministers – and discuss the maintenance of the security of shipping in the region.

It has been reported that consideration is being given to freezing Iranian assets.

Whatever is decided, the foreign secretary is expected to confirm details in an update to the Commons.

The ship's seizure has been seen as a major escalation. Pic: TankerTrackers
Image: The ship's seizure has been seen as a major escalation. Pic: TankerTrackers

What happens next?

Bob Seely MP from the foreign affairs committee said over the weekend that the situation constituted a "massive crisis" that was "going to get bigger".

He said the "only long-term solution is an Iranian nuclear deal that gets the US back in it", but that is an incredibly unlikely prospect as things stand.

Donald Trump has repeatedly blamed Iran for tensions in the Gulf and shadow justice secretary Richard Burgon has warned the government not to be drawn into a potential conflict as the president's "sidekick".

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif has also waded into the crisis by blaming the US, saying Washington wants to drag the UK "into a quagmire".

The UK has said the seizure "constitutes illegal interference" but says it wants a diplomatic solution.

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