British-Flagged Tanker Stena Impero ‘Free to Leave’: Iranian Government Spokesman

An Iranian government spokesman said on Sept. 23 that all legal steps had been completed for the release of the detained British-flagged tanker Stena Impero, but that he did not know when the vessel would be released, Iranian media reported.

The Stena Impero was detained on July 19 by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards in the Strait of Hormuz waterway for alleged marine violations, two weeks after Britain seized an Iranian tanker off Gibraltar.

Iran denied responsibility for those attacks, which took place along a vital international oil shipping route.

The British-flagged oil tanker Stena Impero is “free to leave,” Iranian officials said Monday, marking the end of a two-month standoff between Tehran and London over the detained vessel.

Iran’s government spokesperson, Ali Rabiei, said that the legal process relating to the ship’s seizure had been concluded and it was free to sail on to its destination, according to the country’s semi-official Fars News Agency.

The semi-official Fars news agency quoted Rabiei as saying: “The legal work for the oil tanker is over … and the oil tanker can move, and the decisions indicate the end of the detention.” He did not elaborate.

“After the issuing of the ruling for the end of detention of the English tanker Stena Impero this vessel will soon, and after the passing of 65 days, begin its movement from the port of Bandar Abbas toward international waters,” said Allahmorad Afifipour, the head of the Ports and Maritime Organisation of Iran in Hormozgan Province.

Stena Impero's 23 tanker 1
Stena Impero, a British-flagged vessel owned by Stena Bulk, is seen at undisclosed place off the coast of Bandar Abbas, Iran on Aug. 22, 2019. (Nazanin Tabatabaee/WANA (West Asia News Agency) via Reuters)

The announcement comes a day before UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani are due to meet on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York.

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But the conciliatory mood may be short-lived. On Sunday, Johnson accused Iran of being behind the Sept. 14 attack on Saudi oil facilities, reported the UK’s PA Media news agency.

“The UK is attributing responsibility with a very high degree of probability to Iran for the Aramco attacks. We think it very likely indeed that Iran was indeed responsible,” he told reporters on a flight to New York.

Johnson said he wanted to “deescalate tensions,” but did not rule out military action if asked to take a role by Saudi Arabia or the United States, PA reported.

British-flagged tanker Stena Impero anchored off the Iranian port city of Bandar Abbas on July 21, 2019. (Hasan Shirvani/AFP/Getty Images)

On Sept. 4, Iran released seven of the vessel’s 23 crew members. Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom said at the time that Sweden had been in daily contact with Iran at a high political level since the vessel was seized.

Britain called on Iran to release the ship and its remaining crew immediately.

“Iran’s illegal seizure of a ship inside an internationally recognized shipping lane is unacceptable and undermines international law,” a spokesperson for the British government said in an email.

By Anna Ringstrom

The CNN Wire contributed to this report.