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Amidst Regional Tensions, BP's Tankers Avoid Strait of Hormuz

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The crude tanker British Tradition, a recent addition to BP's owned fleet (BP)

By The Maritime Executive 07-30-2019 08:11:47

On Tuesday, BP chief financial officer Brian Gilvary said that the British oil major has stopped using its own tankers for voyages through the Strait of Hormuz. It continues trade in oil from the Persian Gulf, but it is only lifting cargoes with chartered vessels. 

Gilvary told Reuters that the firm made the decision after Iranian patrol boats attempted to interfere with the transit of the BP tanker British Heritage through the strait on July 10. At the time, the Isle of Man-flagged British Heritage was escorted by the Royal Navy frigate HMS Montrose, which successfully intervened to prevent interference with the tanker's navigation. 

BP's decision may appear prescient in light of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps' seizure of the UK-flagged tanker Stena Impero nine days later. On that occasion, the Montrose was not close enough to intervene, and IRGC commandos boarded the Impero from a helicopter and took control of the vessel. 

The Impero is still detained near Bandar Abbas, Iran, and owner Stena Bulk has expressed concern about the welfare of her crew. “With little progress being made since the vessel was seized on 19th July, we urge governments involved to find a swift resolution so our 23 valued seafarers can return to their families and move on from this ordeal," said Stena Bulk president and CEO Erik Hanell in a statement. The majority of the vessel's crewmembers are Indian nationals, and none are British citizens. 

Satellite imagery suggests Iranian tanker spill

On Tuesday, Israeli outlet i24News published satellite imagery purporting to show a spill from an Iranian tanker near the Baniyas refinery on the coast of Syria. Bellingcat contributor Wim Zwijnenburg released similar imagery showing what appears to be a spill on July 25. 

The cause and size of the spill are not known, but it is the second incident involving a release of oil in the vicinity of Baniyas in a month. In late June, an alleged attack ruptured five underwater oil pipelines that are used to supply the refinery. The Syrian Company for Oil Transport asserted that it was a "professional" covert operation carried out by a state actor.

Tracking by TankerTrackers.com determined that an Iranian tanker arrived at Baniyas the day after the pipelines were damaged. Iran's oil exports are banned by American sanctions, and Syrian oil imports are banned by European Union sanctions; however, the two nations have continued to trade with each other.