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DECEMBER 2020

A Week Of Provocations: New Drone And Tanker Incidents In Persian Gulf

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A Week Of Provocations: New Drone And Tanker Incidents In Persian Gulf

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On July 19th, the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (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.

A Week Of Provocations: New Drone And Tanker Incidents In Persian Gulf

Click to see full-size image

According to an unnamed military source cited by Iran’s state outlet – 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.

“The British vessel hit a fishing trawler, which needs to be investigated,” he said.

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, he added.

“Stena Impero crashed into the fishing vessel,” Afifipour claimed.

Following that, the IRGC Navy guided the vessel to Bandar Abbas, he noted.

As of midday on July 20th, 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,” Afifipour said.

In response to the seizure, Britain warned of “serious consequences” if Iran didn’t release the tanker and the sailors.

“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,” British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said.

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 July 4th, accused of attempting to transport oil to Syria in violation of European Union 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 an attempt to cause a stir by the Washington establishment.

Allegedly, a second UK tanker – 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 that the ship had been released and everything was in order.

“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,” the company said.

On July 18th, Iran said that it had seized a small ship trying to smuggle a million liters of oil.

The IRGC public relations department said that IRGC is closely monitoring vessels passing through the the Persian Gulf in order to identify and deal with organized smuggling.

IRGC’s Patrolling boats on Sunday July 14, 2019 confiscated a foreign ship carrying one million liters of smuggled fuel, it said.

The statement said the vessel with the capacity of carrying some two million liters of fuel had some 12 crews on board and was delivering smuggled fuels from Iranian barges to foreign ships in remote areas.

The IRGC said it had initially responded to distress calls from a ship on Sunday but when they searched it, they discovered it was a smuggling operation, according to Iranian state media.

The footage released by Press TV shows two smaller vessels maneuvering around a larger ship, with clear markings saying “RIAH” and “Panama.” It is not clear when the video of the tanker was filmed.

 

Separately, on July 18th, the US claimed that the warship USS Boxer had downed an Iranian drone flying over the Strait of Hormuz.

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

He added that the Iranian drone had come to about 900 meter of the US Wasp-class amphibious assault ship ‘USS 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 the US saying that it could have accidentally downed its own drone.

“We have not lost any drone in the Strait of Hormuz nor anywhere else. I am worried that USS Boxer has shot down their own UAS [Unmanned Aerial System] by mistake!” he wrote.

Spokesman of the Iranian Armed Forces Brigadier General Abolfazl Shekarchi, too, 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 July 19th, the IRGC released a video allegedly taken by the “downed” drone, which reportedly landed safely after filming it.

The Islamic Revolution Guard Corps has released the first photos of the US Wasp-class amphibious assault ship ‘USS Boxer’ as a document to reject US president’s baseless claim about targeting Iranian drone in Strait of Hormuz.

The IRGC aerospace forces have monitored entrance of the USS Boxer and 5 other ships since their entry to Strait of Hormuz, the IRGC said in a statement.

On July 19th, an anonymous Trump administration official told reporters that the US 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 Secretary General Antonio Guterres.

During his visit, Zarif said that Tehran could immediately ratify a document prescribing more intrusive inspections of its nuclear programme if the US abandoned its economic sanctions, an offer the US dismissed.

The anonymous Trump administration official said that Zarif appeared to have no decision-making ability and that Washington “would not consider anything from him serious”. The official added that the US would need to hear from the “supreme leader or the president” in order to have negotiations.

Zarif blamed Washington for the escalation of tensions and accused the Trump administration of “trying to starve our people” and “deplete our treasury” through economic sanctions.

“We live in a very dangerous environment,” he said. “The US has pushed itself and the rest of the world into probably the brink of an abyss.”

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