The 23 crew members of the Iranian seized oil tanker Stena Impero are 'safe and in good health', the head of the Iranian organisation for ports and maritime affairs stated on Sunday. Meanwhile, the British are planning new sanctions against Iran and considering further action.

The tanker, flying the British flag, was seized by Iran on Friday 19 July while it was passing the Strait of Hormuz, which is next to Iran in the Middle East. The Stena Impero is now located in the harbour of Bandar Abbas. Its crew come from India, Latvia, the Philippines and Russia. In a statement, the ship owner says a formal request has been made to visit the crew, which has been acknowledged, but a formal response has not yet been received.

'Illegal Intervention'

According to Iran, the British-flagged vessel was involved in a collision with a fishing vessel and then ignored a distress signal. Britain calls the seizure a 'hostile act'. Britain has also reported to the United Nations Security Council that the Stena Impero was sailing in Omani waters when it was stopped and seized by Iran. That is why, according to the British, this is an 'illegal intervention' by Iran.

Naval Escort

According to a spokesman for the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, the seized tanker was escorted by a British naval vessel. Yet, the naval vessel was unable to prevent the seizure. This happened 'despite the resistance and intervention' of the British, according to the spokesman. The British Ministry of Defence has not commented on this claim so far. A previous attempt of Iran to seize a British tanker was prevented by the Royal Navy.

Crisis Meeting and Sanctions

Today, British Prime Minister Theresa May will lead a meeting of the government's emergency committee Cobra to discuss the situation as well as maintaining the security of shipping in the area, the BBC reports. The British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt has also suggested sanctions against Iran. According to the Daily Telegraph, this includes the freezing of Iranian assets in Great Britain as well as  reintroducing international economic sanctions that were lifted in 2015. These were removed after the agreement on Iran's nuclear programme. 

In addition to the Netherlands, other Western countries such as Germany and France have also condemned Iran's action. A second British tanker was also boarded by Iranian armed guards on Friday, but was later allowed to continue its journey. 

Source: ANP (with additions from BBC as indicated).

Picture: A Stena Bulk vessel (by BoH).