Stena Bulk: UK-Flagged Tanker is Still Detained in Iran

Anchorage off Bandar Abbas, Iran, Sept. 24. The stretch of water in the center of the image once hosted the Stena Impero, according to TankerTrackers (TankerTrackers / Twitter)

Published Sep 24, 2019 7:13 PM by The Maritime Executive

Despite Iranian government assertions and satellite imaging evidence, tanker operator Stena Bulk says that the detained product tanker Stena Impero is still in Iran's custody off Bandar Abbas. 

On  Monday, Iranian ambassador to the UK Hamid Baeidinejad announced that "judicial proceedings" for the Impero were complete and that she was free to leave. Stena Bulk did not immediately release a statement in response, but on Tuesday, the company said that early reports of the tanker's departure were inaccurate. 

"Despite public statements by Iranian authorities over the past three days that judicial proceedings have concluded, and the Stena Impero is free to leave Iran, the vessel remains detained at anchor in Bandar Abbas," said Stena Bulk president and CEO Erik Hanell in a statement at 1400 UTC Tuesday. “We continue to work hard to secure the release of the crew and vessel. Upon release of the vessel we will release a further statement."

Remote sensing produced a conflicting narrative. On Monday night, maritime consultancy TankerTrackers noted an AIS transmission from an Iranian bunkering tanker engaging in what appeared to be a ship-to-ship transfer (bunkering) evolution at the Stena Impero's anchorage coordinates. At about 0800 UTC Tuesday, the firm posted satellite imagery showing that the Stena Impero was no longer located at the position where she had been anchored since mid-August (27.07° N 56.25° E). TankerTrackers has not yet re-located her, and her AIS transponder appears to remain off (the signal has not been received by commercial services).

Commandos from Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) seized the UK-flagged Stena Impero as she transited the Strait of Hormuz on July 19. The UK Royal Marines conducted a similar seizure of the Iranian VLCC Adrian Darya 1 (ex name Grace 1) on July 4, and the Impero's detention was widely seen as a retaliatory measure targeting British shipping. Iran denies any connection between the two tankers' circumstances.