Iran 'confiscates' British tanker with 23 crew on board 'for failing to respect maritime rules' in major escalation of tensions in the Gulf - as fears mount for SECOND 'diverted' vessel
- The Stena Impero was seized in the Strait of Hormuz at 4pm BST by Iran
- The British-registered tanker was ordered to turn to the north by Iranian forces
- The tanker was heading towards the Persian Gulf and Saudi Arabia
- UK Officials said they lost contact with the 23 crew following the incident
- A second vessel, the British-operated Mesdar is also feared to have been seized
Iran has seized a British-registered oil tanker with 23 crew in the Strait of Hormuz.
A second British-owned vessel is also feared to have been captured by Iranian forces.
The Stena Impero was passing through the bottle neck into the Persian Gulf when it turned dramatically to the north at 4pm, UK time.
The vessel was surrounded by heavily-armed small craft and a helicopter and ordered to turn north.
A second oil tanker, the British-operated, Liberian-flagged Mesdar, turned sharply north towards Iran's coast around the same time the Stena Impero was seized.
Iranian authorities have yet to comment on the Mesdar, but marine tracking data showed it turning dramatically off course and towards the Iranian coast.
US President Donald Trump said he would talk to Britain about the issue, amid worsening relations with Tehran.
Theresa May is expected to hold an emergency meeting of the Cobra committee following today's seizures.
The Stena Impero oil tanker has been seized by Iranian authorities while passing through the Strait of Hormuz this evening
The Stena Impero was surrounded by Iranian Revolutionary Guard forces at 16:00 BST and ordered to head north. The British registered vessel switched off its maritime tracker a short time later. A second British vessel, Medsar, abruptly changed course towards Iran around 16.45. Theresa May is expected to hold an emergency Cobra meeting this evening in response to the seizures
The Iranian Revolutionary Guard uses a large number of high-speed small vessels to harass shipping in the Strait of Hormuz. The regime launched these 'ultra-fast' boats in 2010
US President Donald Trump, pictured, said he was going to talk to UK authorities about today's action by Iran
The vessel had left Fujairah in Dubai and moved into the Strait of Hormuz when it was intercepted.
According to Iranian state TV, the Stena Impero tanker 'was confiscated by the Revolutionary Guards at the request of Hormozgan Ports and Maritime Organisation when passing through the strait of Hormuz, for failing to respect international maritime rules.'
The Foreign Office said it was seeking further information about the fate of the vessel and its crew.
It is understood the British-flagged tanker was surrounded by small craft and helicopters and ordered to turn north into Iranian waters.
A statement from Stena Bulk, the company which owns the tanker, said the firm had lost contact with the crew of 23 after it was approached by 'unidentified small crafts and a helicopter' at around 4pm.
This image, released from Iranian state TV shows Revolutionary Guard speedboats harrying a Panamanian oil tanker on July 14
Royal Marine Commandos intercepted the Grace I off the coast of Gibraltar, on July 14. The vessel, which is Iranian owned is suspected of smuggling oil to Syria in breach of EU sanctions
A second UK-owned vessel, the Mesdar, turned dramatically towards Iran around 45 minutes after the Stena Impero was seized
According to Marine Traffic, the Mesdar turned dramatically north, pictured
The statement said: 'Stena Bulk and Northern Marine Management can confirm that at approximately 1600 BST on 19th July UK registered vessel Stena Impero (built 2018, 49,683 DWT) was approached by unidentified small crafts and a helicopter during transit of the Strait of Hormuz while the vessel was in international waters.
'We are presently unable to contact the vessel which is now heading north towards Iran.
'There are 23 seafarers aboard. There have been no reported injuries and their safety is of primary concern to both owners and managers.
'The priority of both vessel owner Stena Bulk and ship manager Northern Marine Management is the safety and welfare of the crew.'
Iran today denied claims by US President Donald Trump that the USS Boxer, pictured in footage captured by an Iranian drone, shot down the un-manned aircraft over the Strait of Hormuz
The USS Boxer was armed with a Light Marine Air Defense Integrated System (LMADIS) counter-unmanned aircraft system mounted on a vehicle parked at the bow
An Ministry of Defence spokesman said: 'We are urgently seeking further information and assessing the situation following reports of an incident in the Gulf.'
The UK Chamber of Shipping demanded extra protection for merchant vessels operating in the Persian Gulf.
Bob Sanguinetti, CEO of the Chamber said: 'We condemn unreservedly the capture of Stena Impero as she transited the Strait of Hormuz earlier today.
'This incident represents an escalation. Whilst we call for measured response, it is also clear that further protection for merchant vessels must be forthcoming to ensure enhanced security to guarantee free flow of trade in the region.'
The incident came as Iran and the United States emphatically disagreed Friday over Washington's claim that a U.S. warship downed an Iranian drone near the Persian Gulf. American officials said they used electronic jamming to bring down the unmanned aircraft, while Iran said it simply didn't happen.
Neither side provided evidence to prove its claim.
At the White House on Friday, President Donald Trump said flatly of the Iranian drone: 'We shot it down.' But Pentagon and other officials have said repeatedly that the USS Boxer, a Navy ship in the Strait of Hormuz, actually jammed the drone's signal, causing it to crash, and did not fire a missile. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive technology.
Trump's national security adviser, John Bolton, said, 'There is no question this was an Iranian drone, and the USS Boxer took it out as the president announced yesterday because it posed a threat to the ship and its crew. It's entirely the right thing to do.'
In Tehran, the Iranian military said all its drones had returned safely to their bases and denied there was any confrontation with the USS Boxer, an amphibious assault ship.
The Royal Navy currently has HMS Montrose on patrol in the Persian Gulf
It will soon be joined in the Gulf by the destroyer HMS Duncan
Earlier today, Gibraltar's Supreme Court announced it would extend by 30 days the detention of an Iranian tanker seized two weeks ago on allegations that it was headed to Syria in violation of sanctions.
British authorities' detention of the Grace 1 supertanker sparked outrage in Tehran, which accused London of doing the bidding of the Washington in action that is 'tantamount to maritime banditry'.
On Tuesday, Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, accused the 'vicious British' of 'piracy' and vowed retaliation.
The Guards also seized another 'foreign tanker' on Thursday, believed to be the Panamanian-flagged vessel Riah and its crew, and accused the ship of smuggling Iranian fuel.
A series of such incidents have sent tensions soaring between Iran on one side and the US and its allies on the other, raising fears of a regional war in the Gulf.
The Strait of Hormuz is the conduit for nearly a third of the world's crude oil.
Timeline of tensions rising in Persian Gulf
May 12: Four commercial oil tankers attacked off the coast of the United Arab Emirates. Washington accuses Tehran, which denies all involvement.
June 13: A Japanese and Norwegian fuel tanker are hit by mysterious blasts while passing through the Strait of Hormuz. Again, Iran denies involvement.
June 14: U.S. Military releases video 'proving' Iranian involvement in the earlier attacks.
June 20: Iran downs a $130m US surveillance drone over the Strait of Hormuz
Iranian Revolutionary Guards shoot down a $130million US surveillance drone over the Strait of Hormuz.
July 4: Royal Marines Commandos detain the Grace 1 Iranian tanker in Gibraltar which is accused of busting EU Syrian sanctions
July 11: Iran tries to interfere with a UK-registered tanker but is warned off by the Royal Navy.
July 14: Iran seizes the Panama-flagged 'Riah'.
July 18: The USS Boxer shoots down an Iranian drone over the Strait of Hormuz which it claimed was endangering the vessel.
July 19: Iran seizes British-flagged 'Stena Impero'.