US, France, and EU Call for Tankers' Release While Iran Renews Threats

Iran threatens Greek tankers
Image courtesy Mehr News / CC BY 4.0

Published May 30, 2022 2:46 PM by The Maritime Executive

Iran responded to calls from both France and the European Union to release the Greek tankers it seized on Friday with renewed threats against Greek shipping. This came after Iran said it was not detaining the crew members of the two tankers and Iran’s Foreign Minister said the incident should not hurt relations with Greece. The escalation in the rhetoric is raising renewed concerns for shipping and specifically the world oil market which is already under pressure due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. 

Over the weekend, France’s foreign ministry called on Iran to immediately release the crewmembers and the two tankers. Calling the actions of the Iranian a "violation of international law," France said the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps must immediately cease its actions and permit the vessels to depart. This came as EU spokesman Peter Stano described Iran’s actions as “unacceptable,” saying that the EU was “pursuing the matter.”

Iran’s Foreign Minister responded with a statement on Twitter saying, “Our ties [ with Greece] must not be hampered by deeply shortsighted miscalculations, including highway robbery on the command of a third party,” referring to the United States’ actions seizing the crude oil cargo from the tanker anchored ion Greek waters. He cited the long history of co-operation between the two countries.

Over the weekend, Iran's Ports and Maritime Organization refuted claims that the crews from the two vessels, including at least nine Greek citizens, had been arrested saying they had not been “detained” and were in fact being “protected” but Iran. However, the Public Relations Department of the hard line Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps said that its navy force had detained both vessels citing unspecified violations. They further continued to threaten to punish Greece for its actions saying that “other Greek tankers were in the Gulf waters, which could be seized by the elite force if Greece continued its games.”

Iran continues to make it clear that its actions were in retaliation for Greece handing over the tanker Lena to the U.S. authorities who seized the crude oil cargo. Quiet on the matter until today, it was announced that U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke on May 30 with Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias “to condemn in the strongest terms,” the seizure of the two Greek-flagged vessels according to State Department Spokesperson Ned Price. “Iran’s continued harassment of vessels and interference with navigational rights and freedoms are a threat to maritime security and the global economy.  The Secretary and Foreign Minister agreed that Iran must immediately release the seized vessels, their cargoes, and their crews.”

Polembros Shipping, operators of the Prudent Warrior, one of the two tankers detained, issued a brief statement on May 30 saying that earlier today it had been in contact with the vessel’s master and members of the crew. They said they had managed to communicate with the company advising that they are in good health and are treated well.

Greece’s shipping industry ministry responded to the increased tensions and further threats by warning Greek shipping to avoid Iranian waters. While stopping short of ordering Greek ships not to sail into the Persian Gulf, several Geek shipping companies reported that they were seeking additional guidance from the ministry.

“Any Greek owner is going to think twice before going into the Middle East,” Richard Matthews, head of research at E.A. Gibson Shipbrokers told the Financial Times. He pointed out that Greece is the largest operator of tankers and the potential for additional disruptions in crude oil shipments. 

The global oil markets and analysts are waiting and watching to see Iran’s next move and any potential response from the west.