Stena: Seized Tanker Was in Full Compliance with Regulations

File image courtesy Stena Bulk

Published Jul 26, 2019 7:59 PM by The Maritime Executive

In a statement Friday, shipowner Stena Bulk said that the tanker Stena Impero was operating in full compliance with maritime regulations when she was seized by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps last week, contrary to statements made by Iranian officials. 

"Stena Bulk and Northern Marine Management wish to confirm there is no evidence of a collision involving the Stena Impero, and at the time of the seizure the vessel was well within the inbound traffic separation scheme and out-with Iranian territorial waters," Stena said in a statement. "All required navigational equipment, including transponders, was fully functioning, in compliance with maritime regulations."

All 23 crewmembers of the Stena Impero remain in detention in Iran, and though the operator has been allowed to speak with them by phone, Stena has not been permitted to send a representative to visit them aboard the ship. The seafarers have been given an opportunity to call their families for a limited time, but Iranian authorities have not yet given an indication of when they might be released. 

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 in an apparent act of retribution for the seizure of an Iranian-controlled tanker. The UK Royal Marines boarded and diverted the Iranian-controlled VLCC Grace 1 on July 4 after British authorities determined that the vessel was intending to violate EU sanctions on Syrian oil imports. The Grace 1 remains in detention in Gibraltar. 

Stena Bulk is not a British company, and none of the Impero's crew are British nationals, but the vessel is flagged and managed in the UK. The Impero's seizure and the harassment of another UK-operated tanker, the Mesdar, have created concerns in some corners of the insurance market about British-flagged shipping in the Persian Gulf, according to a statement Friday from the Red Ensign Group. The group represents the flag registries of the UK and nearly a dozen British overseas territories and dependencies, and it is urging all operators of British-flagged vessels who are concerned about hull war risk premiums to speak with their underwriters. 

"It’s possible that some lead underwriters are applying an additional rate in response to their risk appetite. However, given that the latest advice from the Department for Transport on 24 July confirms that British-flagged vessels are now being escorted [by the Royal Navy] through the transit of the Strait of Hormuz, we would advise all our operators to contact their lead Underwriter or Broker as a matter of urgency," the Red Ensign Group wrote in a statement. The Lloyd's Market Association Joint War Committee has not yet added an extra war risk premium for the region. 

At present the Royal Navy has only one frigate in the area, the HMS Montrose. A second warship, the destroyer HMS Duncan, is currently on her way. The new government of UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has indicated that the Royal Navy will escort all British shipping through the Strait of Hormuz.

An American plan to secure the waterway with a multinational force, dubbed Operation Sentinel, has yet to gain a pledge of participation from a U.S. ally. “We are at the beginning stages of developing our maritime security initiative," said U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in an interview Thursday. "We’ve asked the Brits, the French, the Germans, the Norwegians, the Japanese, the South Koreans, the Australians. Every country that has an interest in ensuring that those waterways are open and crude oil and other products can flow through the Straits of Hormuz needs to participate."

The UK has proposed an alternative European-led mission, which has been endorsed by the government of France.