Iran: Zarif: US Turning Gulf Region into ‘Tinderbox’

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

 

Zarif: US Turning Gulf Region into ‘Tinderbox’

Monday, 12 August, 2019 – 11:30
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif arrives for a meeting at United Nations Headquarters in the Manhattan borough of New York, US, July 18, 2019. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
Asharq Al-Awsat
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif accused the United States in a television interview on Monday of turning the Gulf region into a “matchbox ready to ignite.”

Oil tanker traffic passing through the Gulf via the Strait of Hormuz has become the focus of a US-Iranian standoff since Washington pulled out of the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran and reimposed sanctions to strangle Tehran’s oil exports.

After explosions that damaged six tankers in May and June and Iran’s seizure of a British-flagged tanker in July, the United States launched a maritime security mission in the Gulf, joined by Britain, to protect merchant vessels.

According to Reuters, Zarif said in the interview that the Strait “is narrow, it will become less safe as foreign (navy) vessels increase their presence in it”.

“The region has become a matchbox ready to ignite because America and its allies are flooding it with weapons,” he said.

Last month, Iran’s Revolutionary Guards seized the British tanker, Stena Impero near the Strait for alleged marine violations, two weeks after Britain seized an Iranian oil tanker near Gibraltar, accusing it of violating sanctions on Syria.

The tanker dispute has tangled Britain in the diplomatic dispute between the EU’s big powers – which want to preserve the Iran nuclear deal – and the United States which has pushed for a tougher policy on Iran.

Also Monday, Iranian Vice President Eshaq Jahangiri charged that Washington’s unilateralist policies and its emphasis on sanctions threaten the stability of the region.

He was speaking at an economic forum hosted by Turkmenistan.

Saudi: BP Stopped Taking its Tankers through Hormuz since July 10

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

 

BP Stopped Taking its Tankers through Hormuz since July 10

Tuesday, 30 July, 2019 – 11:30
Traditional Omani boats known as dhows, and cargo ships are seen sailing towards the Strait of Hormuz, off the coast of Musandam province, Oman, July 21, 2018. (Reuters)
Asharq Al-Awsat

BP has not taken any of its oil tankers through the Strait of Hormuz since a July 10 attempt by Iran to seize one of its vessels, the British company’s Chief Financial Officer Brian Gilvary said on Tuesday.

The oil and gas company has no current plans to take any of its own vessels through the strait, Gilvary said, adding that BP is shipping oil out of the region using chartered tankers.

“We will continue to make shipments through there but you won’t see any BP-flagged tankers going through in the short term,” he said, according to Reuters.

Gilvary was speaking as the company reported better than expected second-quarter earnings due to a strong increase in oil and gas production.

Tensions spiked between Iran and Britain this month when Iranian commandos seized a British-flagged tanker in the Strait of Hormuz, the world’s most important waterway for oil shipments.

That came two weeks after British forces captured an Iranian oil tanker near Gibraltar suspected of violating European Union sanctions on Syria.

Earlier this month, three Iranian vessels tried to block the passage of a BP-operated tanker through the Strait of Hormuz but withdrew after warnings from a British warship.

Washington, which has by far the strongest Western naval contingent in the Gulf, on July 9 proposed stepping up efforts to safeguard the Strait of Hormuz.

 

Saudi’s: Noose Tightens around Iranian Shipping

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

 

Flags of Inconvenience: Noose Tightens around Iranian Shipping

Friday, 26 July, 2019 – 09:30
A Panama flag flies on the stern of the Iranian oil tanker Grace 1 as it sits anchored after it was seized earlier this month by British Royal Marines off the coast of Gibraltar, July 20, 2019. (Reuters)
Asharq Al-Awsat
Somewhere on its journey from the waters off Iran, around Africa’s southern tip and into the Mediterranean, the Grace 1 oil tanker lost the flag under which it sailed and ceased to be registered to Panama, reported Reuters. Iran later claimed it as its own.

The ship carrying 2 million barrels of Iranian crude was seized by British Royal Marines off Gibraltar, raising tensions in the Gulf where Iran detained a UK-flagged ship in retaliation.

Grace 1 remains impounded, not because of its flag but because it was suspected of taking oil to Syria in breach of EU sanctions, an allegation that Iran denies.

Yet Panama’s move on May 29 to strike it from its register mid-voyage was part of a global squeeze on Iranian shipping.

Nations that register vessels under so-called “flags of convenience” allowing them to sail legally have de-listed dozens of tankers owned by Iran in recent months, tightening the economic noose around it.

In the biggest cull, Panama, the world’s most important flag state, removed 59 tankers linked to Iran and Syria earlier this year, a decision welcomed by the United States which wants to cut off Tehran’s vital oil exports.

Panama and some other key flag states are looking more closely at the thousands of ships on their registers to ensure they comply with US sanctions that were re-imposed against Iran last year and tightened further since.

A Reuters analysis of shipping registry data shows that Panama has de-listed around 55 Iranian tankers since January, Togo has de-listed at least three and Sierra Leone one.

That represents the majority of its operational fleet of tankers, the lifeblood of the oil-dominated economy, although Iran may have re-registered some ships under new flag states.

When a vessel loses its flag, it typically loses insurance cover if it does not immediately find an alternative, and may be barred from calling at ports. Flags of convenience also provide a layer of cover for a vessel’s ultimate owner.

International registries charge fees to ship owners to use their flags and offer tax incentives to attract business.

Iran said it still had plenty of options.

“There are so many shipping companies that we can use. In spite of US pressure, many friendly countries are happy to help us and have offered to help us regarding this issue,” said an Iranian shipping official, when asked about tankers being de-listed.

Some nations have expressed caution, however. The world’s third biggest shipping registry, Liberia, said its database automatically identified vessels with Iranian ownership or other connections to the country.

“Thus, any potential request to register a vessel with Iranian connection triggers an alert and gets carefully vetted by the Registry’s compliance and management personnel,” the registry said.

Liberia said it was working closely with US authorities to prevent what it called “malign activity” in maritime trade.

Iranian flag

In many cases Iran has re-listed ships under its own flag, complicating efforts to move oil and other goods to and from the dwindling number of countries willing to do business with it.

Some shipping specialists said the Iranian flag was problematic because individuals working for the registry in Iran could be designated under US sanctions, and so present a risk for anyone dealing with vessels listed by them.

“Most insurance companies or banks will not be able to deal with the Iranian flag as it is in effect dealing with the Iranian state,” said Mike Salthouse, deputy global director with ship insurer the North of England P&I, according to Reuters.

Customs officials may also sit up and take notice.

“One of the problems with an Iranian-flagged ship is that there is a 50 percent chance that a customs officer will undertake a search, which means the cargo will be delayed,” said a UN sanctions investigator, who declined to be named. “These all add to the costs.”

A former US diplomat said Washington was often in contact with Panama and other flag states to keep vessel registries “clean”.

“We are continuing to disrupt the Quds Force’s illicit shipments of oil, which benefit terrorist groups like Hezbollah as well as the Assad regime (in Syria),” said a spokesman at the US State Department.

Quds Force refers to a unit of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps that is in charge of the Guards’ overseas operations, and Hezbollah is an Iran-backed, armed party that forms part of Lebanon’s coalition government.

“Nearly 80 tankers involved in sanctionable activity have been denied the flags they need to sail,” the spokesman added.

False flags

De-flagging Iranian ships is just one way the international community can squeeze Iran.

US sanctions on oil exports aim to reduce Iran’s sales to zero. Iran has vowed to continue exporting.

In the first three weeks of June, Iran exported around 300,000 barrels per day (bpd), a fraction of the 2.5 million bpd that Iran shipped before President Donald Trump’s exit in May last year from the 2015 nuclear deal with major powers.

Egypt could also complicate life for Tehran if it denies passage to tankers heading to the Mediterranean through the Suez Canal. The alternative route around Africa, taken by Grace 1 before its seizure, is far longer.

Refinitiv shipping data showed the Masal, an Iranian-flagged oil tanker, anchored in the Suez Canal’s waiting zone on July 6. It stayed there until July 12, when it began to sail south. It exited the Red Sea on July 17 and docked at Larak Island, Iran on July 23.

The Suez Canal Authority’s spokesman said Egypt did not bar vessels from crossing the canal except in times of war, in accordance with the Constantinople Convention. He declined to comment further.

Britain tightened the screw when it seized the Grace 1 supertanker on July 4, accusing it of violating sanctions against Syria.

Two Iranian-flagged ships have been stranded for weeks at Brazilian ports due to a lack of fuel, which state-run oil firm Petrobras refuses to sell them due to US sanctions. Two more Iranian ships in Brazil could also be left without enough fuel to sail home.

A recent incident off Pakistan’s coast last month points to the lengths Iran has gone to in order to keep trading.

The Iranian cargo carrier Hayan left from the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas on June 3 and set sail for Karachi on Pakistan’s coast, according to ship tracking data from maritime risk analysts Windward.

On June 7, it changed its name to Mehri II and its flag to that of Samoa, the data showed, as it made its way toward Karachi port.

Six days later, the vessel conducted a ship-to-ship transfer of its unknown cargo further up Pakistan’s coast.

The ship then returned home, changing its flag back to Iran and its name back to Hayan.

Imran Ul Haq, spokesman for the Pakistan Maritime Security Agency, said they had no information, when asked about the Iranian ship’s activity.

Iran has frequently used ship-to-ship transfers to move oil and oil products since US sanctions were reimposed.

Shipping data also show that a separate Iranian-owned cargo ship, the Ya Haydar, has been sailing around the Gulf and reporting its flag as that of Samoa.

Samoa denies allowing Iran to register any ships under its flag.

“The said vessels Hayan or Ya Haydar are not, and have never been listed, nor registered on the Samoa’s registry of vessels,” said Anastacia Amoa-Stowers of the Maritime department at Samoa’s Ministry of Works, Transport & Infrastructure.

“Given there are currently no Iranian ships listed on Samoa’s registry, there is no action to de-list a vessel. Additionally, there has never been any Iranian ships listed on Samoa’s vessel registry – previously and at present.”

Amoa-Stowers said Samoa was a closed registry, meaning that any foreign vessel flying its flag was doing so illegally.

A senior Iranian government official involved in shipping declined to comment when asked about the two vessels.

A spokeswoman with the International Maritime Organization said the UN’s shipping agency had received information from Samoa which has been circulated to member states.

Make no excuses for Iran. This is pure piracy

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TELEGRAPH.UK)

 

Make no excuses for Iran. This is pure piracy

This handout photo made available on July 20, 2019, by Jan Verhoog shows the Stena Impero, a British-flagged tanker, off the coast of Europoort in Rotterdam on April 3, 2018.
The Stena Impero, a British-flagged tanker, off the coast of Europoort in Rotterdam on April 3, 2018.CREDIT: JAN VERHOOG 

Nothing justifies Iran’s piracy in the Gulf. Jeremy Corbyn – as night follows day – suggested the United States is partly to blame for Iran seizing a British-flagged tanker because the Americans walked away from the Iran nuclear deal. But Britain has not. Whatever one thinks of the deal – and this newspaper believes it to be a terrible mistake – the UK government remains in favour and has been trying to rescue it, so the Iranians have turned on one of the Western powers most sympathetic to their cause. Tehran rages mightily about the British seizure of an Iranian vessel at Gibraltar, but the situations are not comparable. That vessel is accused of trying to break sanctions by providing oil to Syria. The Iranians have targeted ships going about perfectly legal business.

Mr Corbyn’s attempt to blame this on tensions raised by the US doesn’t hold water – and given the paid work he’s previously done for an Iranian broadcaster, his objectivity is in question. No: Iran is a bloodthirsty dictatorship that oppresses women and religious and sexual minorities. It has exported terrorism. It is threatening already to break the nuclear agreement and, say some analysts, has been developing rocket technology that means when the deal finally comes to an end, it might be in an even stronger position. The issue isn’t Iran’s absolute responsibility for this crisis but why Britain wasn’t able to respond more swiftly and decisively.

Questions need to be asked. Why wasn’t the UK prepared for this eventuality, especially given that Iran has menaced vessels previously and hardliners explicitly threatened to take control of a British tanker in retribution for the Gibraltar raid? Why has Britain downgraded its fleet from having 35 frigates in 1982 to just 13 today? Could it prove necessary to run a convoy system in and out of the Gulf, to protect shipping? This will all cost more money, which is why it’s essential that the next prime minister spends more on defence. He also needs to review British foreign policy, as it’s clear that trying to play nice on the nuclear deal isn’t working. The United States has given up on Iran and, considering what’s just happened in the Gulf, understandably so. This is a rogue state. It should be treated as such.

Britain says Iran has seized two oil tankers in the Strait of Hormuz

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

Britain says Iran has seized two oil tankers in the Strait of Hormuz

UK confirms two vessels taken, one of them British, in ‘unacceptable’ act; Iranian media says second ship released after being detained; US accuses Tehran of ‘escalatory violence’

This undated photo issued Friday July 19, 2019, by Stena Bulk, shows the British oil tanker Stena Impero at unknown location (Stena Bulk via AP)

This undated photo issued Friday July 19, 2019, by Stena Bulk, shows the British oil tanker Stena Impero at unknown location (Stena Bulk via AP)

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards seized two oil tankers in the Strait of Hormuz, officials in London said, in a move that further raised tensions and infuriated American and British leaders.

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards said it had seized British oil tanker Stena Impero, claiming it “was confiscated by the Revolutionary Guards at the request of Hormozgan Ports and Maritime Organization when passing through the Strait of Hormuz, for failing to respect international maritime rules.”

US officials told CNN there were indications that Iran had seized a second vessel, the Liberian tanker MV Mesdar. Iran’s semi-official Fars news agency reported that Masdar had been detained by Iranian forces but was released and left Iranian waters.

British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt confirmed that two ships had been seized, condemning the incidents as “unacceptable” and saying he was “extremely concerned” by the incidents.

UK Foreign Minister Jeremy Hunt addresses the final Conservative Party leadership election hustings in London on July 17, 2019. (Tolga Akmen/AFP)

“I’m extremely concerned by the seizure of two naval vessels by Iranian authorities in the Strait of Hormuz,” he said in a statement. “These seizures are unacceptable.”

The government was to hold an emergency ministerial meeting later on Friday “to review what we know and what we can do to swiftly secure the release of the two vessels,” Hunt said.

Britain’s ambassador in Tehran was in contact with Iranian authorities “to resolve the situation,” he added.

Hunt later warned of “serious consequences” if the ships were not released.

“We will respond in a way is considered but robust, and we are absolutely clear that if this situation is not resolved quickly there will be serious consequences,” he was quoted saying by Sky News.

“We’re not looking at military options, we are a looking at diplomatic way to resolve the situation,” he added.

Britain confirmed that one of the boats seized was British registered. The other was Liberian-flagged, but reported to be owned by British company Norbulk Shipping.

Fars reported the Liberian-flagged tanker was briefly detained in the Strait of Hormuz and given a notice to comply with environmental regulations before being allowed to continue on its way.

The UK is “urgently seeking further information and assessing the situation following reports of an incident in the Gulf,” a British government spokesperson said.

Asked about the latest incident as he departed the White House, President Donald Trump told reporters “We will talk to the UK. We’ll be working with the UK.”

He added: “This only goes to show what I’m saying about Iran. Trouble. Nothing but trouble. It goes to show you I was right about Iran.”

US President Donald Trump talks to the press before departing from the South Lawn of the White House on July 19, 2019, in Washington, DC (Brendan Smialowski / AFP)

The US accused Iran of “escalatory violence,” with National Security Council spokesman Garrett Marquis saying: “The US will continue to work with our allies and partners to defend our security and interests against Iran’s malign behavior.”

The Swedish owners of the Stena Impero said the vessel had come under “attack” in the Strait of Hormuz.

Stena Bulk and Northern Marine Management said in a statement that it “can confirm that… our managed vessel Stena Impero was attacked by unidentified small crafts and a helicopter while transiting the Strait of Hormuz while the vessel was in international waters.”

“We are presently unable to contact the vessel which is now tracking as heading north towards Iran,” it said.

UK Chamber of Shipping CEO Bob Sanguinetti said the seizure of a British oil tanker by Iranian forces represents an escalation in tensions in the Persian Gulf that makes it clear more protection for merchant vessels is urgently needed.

He said the action was “in violation of international regulations which protect ships and their crews as they go about their legitimate business in international waters.”

He called on the British government to do “whatever is necessary” to ensure the safe and swift return of the ship’s crew.

The announcement by the Guards came hours after the British territory of Gibraltar’s Supreme Court ruled that a seized Iranian tanker suspected of breaching sanctions by shipping oil to Syria can be detained for 30 more days.

The Grace 1 supertanker, carrying 2.1 million barrels of oil, was intercepted by British Royal Marines and Gibraltar’s police on July 4 as it transited through waters claimed by Gibraltar, which is located on Spain’s southern tip.

The Grace 1 super tanker in the British territory of Gibraltar, July 4, 2019. (AP Photo/Marcos Moreno)

Gibraltar’s Chief Minister Fabian Picardo said Thursday he had had a “constructive and positive” meeting with Iranian officials in London aimed at defusing tensions around the detention of the tanker in the British territory’s waters.

Gibraltar and US officials believed the tanker was destined for Syria to deliver oil, in violation of separate sets of EU and US sanctions.

Iran has reacted with fury to what it termed “piracy” and warned it would not let the interception go unanswered.

Last week, a British warship in the Gulf warned off armed Iranian boats that tried to stop a UK supertanker. London has since announced the deployment of two more warships to the Gulf region for the coming months.

In this file photo taken on April 30, 2019, Iranian soldiers take part in the ‘National Persian Gulf Day’ in the Strait of Hormuz. (Atta Kenare/AFP)

The Gibraltar court ruling comes as tensions in the Gulf region mounted Friday after Washington said an Iranian drone was destroyed after threatening a US naval vessel at the entrance to the Strait of Hormuz.

It was believed to be the first US military engagement with Iran following a series of increasingly serious incidents. Iran has denied losing any drones.

On Thursday the Guards said they’d seized a foreign tanker accused of smuggling oil. The vessel appeared to be a United Arab Emirates-based tanker that had disappeared off trackers in Iranian territorial waters.

Iran’s state television did not identify the seized vessel or nationalities of the crew, but said it was intercepted on Sunday. It said the oil tanker had 12 foreign crew members on board and was involved in smuggling some 1 million liters (264,000 gallons) of fuel from Iranian smugglers to foreign customers.

READ MORE:

U.K. warns Iran of “serious consequences” if tanker isn’t released

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CBS NEWS)

 

U.K. warns Iran of “serious consequences” if tanker isn’t released

Britain is warning Iran of what it describes as “serious consequences” if Iran does not release a British-flagged tanker it seized in the Persian Gulf. Iran claims the tanker collided with an Iranian fishing boat in the Strait of Hormuz.

“We will respond in a way that is considered but robust and we are absolutely clear that if this situation is not resolved quickly there will be serious consequences,” British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said on Friday. “We’re not looking at military options, we’re looking at a diplomatic way to resolve the situation, but we are very clear that it must be resolved.”

Germany and France on Saturday also called on Iran to release the tanker. President Trump on Friday commented on the increasing tension in the strategic oil shipping route. “Trouble, nothing but trouble,” he said from the White House.

CBS News was traveling in Afghanistan with General Frank McKenzie, the top U.S. military commander for the Middle East, when the two British tankers were seized. McKenzie told CBS News exactly what happened: the first ship was flying a British flag as it passed through the Strait of Hormuz at the mouth of the Persian Gulf.

“She was fired upon, subsequently boarded, taken under Iranian custody and is now deep in Iranian territorial waters,” McKenzie explained.

Iran Persian Gulf Tensions
A British-flagged oil tanker Stena Impero which was seized by the Iran’s Revolutionary Guard is shown in the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas on Saturday, July 20, 2019.   TASNIM NEWS AGENCY/VIA AP

The second British tanker was flying a Liberian flag. “The Iranians boarded her. We believed they searched for British persons, found none and then allowed her to continue her voyage,” he added.

Three hours later an American-flagged cargo ship, the Maersk Chicago, went through the strait with what McKenzie called “iron overhead” meaning F-18 fighter jets flying air cover. The Iranians left it alone. The U.S. now has warships stationed at either end of the strait.

“Do those destroyers have orders to intervene if they see another ship hijacking?” CBS News asked.

“They would only do so in the case of a U.S. flag vessel coming under attack,” McKenzie said.

Mr. Trump has made clear he does not want war with Iran. McKenzie told CBS News the U.S. military is determined not to overreact.

  • David Martin

    David Martin is CBS News’ National Security Correspondent.

Iran seizes two British tankers and makes a huge mistake

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE WASHINGTON EXAMINER)

 

Iran seizes two British tankers and makes a huge mistake

00:0100:54

There will be furious embarrassment in the British government this evening over Iran’s seizure of two British oil tankers today. One of those tankers is British-flagged, and the other is British-owned.

Still, Iran has made a strategic miscalculation here.

Acting against the British while the U.K. and Iranian foreign ministers were seeking compromise over Britain’s recent seizure of an Iranian tanker, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps have further isolated Iran on the international stage. With a multinational naval task force for tanker escorts likely to be announced next week, the Iranians are increasingly outgunned and diplomatically isolated. Losing a drone to a U.S. warship on Thursday, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps is also now aware of American red lines against threats to U.S. life.

00:0100:39

Columnist Salena Zito on the expanded Washington Examiner magazine

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But none of that will distract from London’s embarrassment.

Britain was well aware that this kind of Iranian aggression was likely. Deploying an advanced warship to the Persian Gulf, the U.K. expected to deter Iran. That calculation has clearly failed in quite spectacular fashion. The military options to retake these tankers are also weak. While Britain’s Special Boat Service special forces unit has an advanced maritime counter-terrorism capability, recovering tankers now in Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps port would be an extraordinary challenge.

That said, Iran’s action here presents two problems for Tehran.

First, it will encourage Britain to support the U.S. sanctions pressure campaign against Iran. With a new British prime minister entering office next week, the U.K. will want to regain the initiative here against appearing weak. But Iran’s action also makes it likelier that France and Germany will adopt a tougher stance against it. Those nations have pursued an appeasement strategy until now, but they will view Iran’s escalated endangerment of global energy supplies as intolerable.

Ultimately, then, Iran is heading for more economic damage. These seizures might make the hard-liners feel good, but they’ve made a big mistake.

England: Gibraltar Extends to August 15 Detention of Iranian Tanker

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

 

Gibraltar Extends to August 15 Detention of Iranian Tanker

Friday, 19 July, 2019 – 11:00
Supertanker Grace 1 off the coast of Gibraltar on July 6, 2019. (AFP)
Asharq Al-Awsat
Gibraltar will continue to impound an Iranian oil tanker until August 15 after its supreme court granted a 30-day extension to authorities, the Gibraltar Chronicle newspaper said.

The paper said Gibraltar’s Attorney General, Michael Llamas, had confirmed the decision.

The Grace 1 was seized earlier this month by British Royal Marines off the coast of the British Mediterranean territory on suspicion of violating sanctions against Syria.

British foreign minister Jeremy Hunt said Britain would facilitate the release of the Grace 1 if Iran gave guarantees that the tanker would not go to Syria, once the issue had followed due process in Gibraltar’s courts.

On Thursday, Gibraltar’s Chief Minister Fabian Picardo held a “constructive and positive” meeting with Iranian officials in London to discuss the tanker.

British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said Saturday that Britain will facilitate the release the ship if Iran can provide guarantees the vessel will not breach the sanctions.

Iran has vowed to respond to what it calls Britain’s “piracy” over the seizure of the tanker and warned of reciprocal measures.

Last week, London said three Iranian vessels tried to block a British-owned tanker passing through the Strait of Hormuz, but backed off when confronted by a Royal Navy warship.

Iran denied that its vessels had done any such thing.

32 Missing After Ships Collide Off China’s Coast

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF TIME NEWS)

 

The Panama-registered tanker "Sanchi" is seen ablaze after a collision with a Hong Kong-registered freighter off China's eastern coast on Jan. 7, 2018
The Panama-registered tanker “Sanchi” is seen ablaze after a collision with a Hong Kong-registered freighter off China’s eastern coast on Jan. 7, 2018
Korea Coast Guard/AP

By GERRY SHIH / AP

9:49 AM EST

(BEIJING) — An Iranian oil tanker collided with a bulk freighter and caught fire off China’s east coast, leaving the tanker’s entire crew of 32 missing and causing it to spill oil into the sea, authorities said Sunday.

Chinese authorities dispatched police vessels and three cleaning ships to the scene after the collision, which happened late Saturday. The South Korean coast guard also sent a ship and a plane to help search for the missing crew members — 30 Iranians and two Bangladeshis.

The Panama-registered tanker Sanchi was sailing from Iran to South Korea when it collided with the Hong Kong-registered freighter CF Crystal in the East China Sea, 257 kilometers (160 miles) off the coast of Shanghai, China’s Ministry of Transport said.

All 21 crew members of the Crystal, which was carrying grain from the United States, were rescued, the ministry said. The Crystal’s crew members were all Chinese nationals.

It wasn’t immediately clear what caused the collision.

State-run China Central Television reported Sunday evening that the tanker was still floating and burning, and that oil was visible in the water.

It was not clear, however, whether the tanker was still spilling oil. The size of the oil slick caused by the accident also was not known.

Earlier Sunday, Chinese state media carried pictures of the tanker on fire with large plumes of smoke.

The Sanchi was carrying 136,000 metric tons (150,000 tons, or nearly 1 million barrels) of condensate, a type of ultra-light oil, according to Chinese authorities.

By comparison, the Exxon Valdez was carrying 1.26 million barrels of crude oil when it spilled 260,000 barrels into Prince William Sound off Alaska in 1989.

The Sanchi has operated under five different names since it was built in 2008, according the U.N.-run International Maritime Organization. The IMO listed its registered owner as Hong Kong-based Bright Shipping Ltd., on behalf of the National Iranian Tanker Co., a publicly traded company based in Tehran. The National Iranian Tanker Co. describes itself as operating the largest tanker fleet in the Middle East.

An official in Iran’s Oil Ministry, who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to reporters, said 30 of the tanker’s 32 crew members were Iranians.

“We have no information on their fate,” he said. “We cannot say all of them have died, because rescue teams are there and providing services.”

The official said the tanker was owned by the National Iranian Tanker Co. and had been rented by a South Korean company, Hanwha Total Co. He said the tanker was on its way to South Korea.

Hanwa Total is a 50-50 partnership between the Seoul-based Hanwha Group and the French oil giant Total. Total did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

It’s the second collision for a ship from the National Iranian Tanker Co. in less than a year and a half. In August 2016, one of its tankers collided with a Swiss container ship in the Singapore Strait, damaging both ships but causing no injuries or oil spill.

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