When masked Iranian armed men descended from a helicopter onto a British-flagged ship in the Strait of Hormuz, a crew member shouted to his shipmates that it was time to give up.
The crew of the Stena Impero dropped off emergency calls on nearby US and British Navy warships on Friday evening when they tried to dodge four Iranian naval ships, a person familiar with the events said. But the Iranian boats finally swarmed the oil tanker. In broken English, the Iranian commandos called for sailing north to Iran when some crewmembers put their hands behind their heads. "When masked, uniformed men come with weapons from a helicopter, there are no sweets," said the person.
The speed and ease with which Iran conquered the Stena Impero and another tanker freed after several hours shows Tehran's broad latitude must disrupt global trade as it battles US economic pressure. The threat of ship seizures has disrupted markets, triggered new Western security measures and capsized shipping schedules.
Tehran's actions are generally viewed as retaliation for the seizure of an Iranian oil tanker in Gibraltar, which left the British and Americans behind to governments looking for an answer.
The seizure by Stena Impero was all the more astonishing as the US and Britain established defenses in the Persian Gulf, next to the Strait of Hormuz. Less than 24 hours earlier, a convoy of US warships had partially driven through the road to prevent such an incident.
"Their presence out here is tremendous to deter our opponents," Brig said. Gen Matthew Trollinger said on Thursday to crew the USS Boxer, a sea-land assault ship leading the convoy.
The Pentagon did not say why the USS boxers' convoy of Stena Impero did not help. A British security official said the convoy may have received the emergency calls, but gone too far to intervene.
The Stena-Impero seizure was the latest in a series of skirmishes in and around the Persian Gulf in recent months, when Tehran is cracking down on harsh US sanctions imposed after President Trump overturned the US from the international nuclear deal withdrawn from 201
U.K.. Prime Minister Theresa May met with national security officials on Downing Street on Monday to discuss the British reaction. It has called on all British-flagged ships to avoid the Strait of Hormuz until further notice. According to the British consulting firm Lloyd's List Intelligence, eight ships were shut down in the Gulf region.
The Pentagon has announced plans to develop a new system for providing security and surveillance to protect merchant ships traversing the area. However, it is not clear whether the US can drive international efforts.
U.K.. Defense Secretary Tobias Ellwood said, "It's not possible to escort each ship down the Strait of Hormuz, where one-third of Earth's marine oil is shipped on dozens of ships a week." British Foreign Minister Jeremy Hunt said ships flying the British flag would have to inform the British Navy when they pass the road.
Iran's maneuver on the Stena Impero came from a well-known play book. Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps is equipped to swarm ships with fast boats armed with torpedoes and short-range missiles. It is known for guerilla tactics at sea.
On Friday, the Stena Impero, a new tanker built last year with 23 crew members, headed for Jubail in Saudi Arabia, where it was to stock up on petrochemicals. Its capacity is equivalent to 400,000 barrels.
At 18:00. At local time, an Iranian helicopter began to whirring over us, and the group of speedboats whizzed through the tanker and ordered him to change direction to Iran, according to a Stena employee and a radio record received from the British security firm Dryad Global.
About 20 miles (32 km) away, the British naval ship HMS Montrose interfered with the radio, telling Stena Impero that it wanted to conduct a transit passage on a recognized international road and not stop in front of the Iranians under international law.
"There is no challenge. I want to inspect the ship for safety reasons, "said the Iranian HMS Montrose.
As the speedboats approached, the Stena Impero picked up speed on its original course. "It's a common tactic," said the person who is familiar with the engagement. "They make it harder for boats to track you by raising the bow wave."
At around 7:00 pm, the Iranian forces sneaked from the helicopter onto the boat.
"Stay calm," a Stena Impero crewman shouted to his shipmates, according to the person familiar with the events. "Do not resist, and we'll be fine."
Just over an hour later, the Iranians seized another ship, Mesdar, also in the street, and cut off contact for four hours before allowing it to pass to Saudi Arabia, according to the shipowner. Later, Iranian officials said they told the state media that they had informed the boat about environmental regulations.
Soon after the arrest of Stena Impero, Iranian officials cited various reasons for their detention. First, Iranian state news agencies reported that the Stena Impero was arrested for shutting down its GPS signal and entering the road via the exit route, in defiance of international maritime laws.
The government also said that the Stena Impero collided with a fishing boat and required an investigation. The Iranian government has not submitted any evidence of a collision.
The shipowner said the boat had followed all the navigation rules. The person familiar with the events called the allegation of an unfounded crash.
On Sunday, Iranian Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani told the chamber, "The British stole, the answer was given, and that was it." 19659004] Executives of Stena Bulk, the shipowner under the British flag, are now discussing in frustration how the crew and ship can be rescued and how this confiscation could have been avoided, according to people who are familiar with the company's considerations.
Director-General Erik Hanell has formally asked the Iranian authorities to visit the crew of Indians, Latvians, Filipinos and Russians. The Iranian authorities released videos on Monday, where they laugh, joke and perform tasks on the Stena Impero.
"There are questions about how seizure could be prevented," the person said.
Political analysts say the UK authorities have limited ability to respond. Competing political goals, the release of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, an Iranian-British woman imprisoned in a Tehran prison since 2016, and the rescue of the Iran-rejected Iranian nuclear deal of 2015, as well as France and Germany, curtail this trump card.
Shipowners say the Iranians now have the opportunity to act against the release of the oil tanker. British special forces were arrested earlier this month on suspicion of breaking the EU embargo on Syria. They therefore hope that Iran will not arrest any ships.
"Our crews and ships are like collateral damage in an ego war between Iran and the US," said a Greek shipping company with two tankers on the Persian Gulf. "This is unacceptable."
– Day Aresu Eqbali in Tehran and Max Colchester and Jason Douglas in London have contributed to this article.
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