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Asian Suezmax market cautious after Iran allegedly accosted BP tanker

Singapore — The Asian Suezmax market was watching developments cautiously Thursday after oil major BP's tanker, the British Heritage, was allegedly approached by Iranian vessels in the Persian Gulf.

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"Contrary to international law, three Iranian vessels attempted to impede the passage of a commercial vessel, British Heritage, through the Strait of Hormuz," a UK government spokesperson said in a statement.

"HMS Montrose was forced to position herself between the Iranian vessels and British Heritage and issue verbal warnings to the Iranian vessels, which then turned away. We are concerned by this action and continue to urge the Iranian authorities to de-escalate the situation in the region.”

Iran's Revolutionary Guards denied responsibility, according to a statement carried by Fars news agency.

BP has not disclosed to market participants whether the oil major will halt sending ships to the Persian Gulf due to ongoing security concerns, shipping sources said.

"This kind of development is always a concern for the shipping market. We need to watch and see," said one shipowner. "I don't think BP will stop sending ships to the Persian Gulf,” another broker said.

BP wasn't immediately available for comment.

Singapore-based market sources said other BP-controlled vessels in the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea region currently include the 314,014-dwt VLCC KHK Majesty that is on time charter with BP Shipping for 3-5 years.

KHK Majesty was sailing off the coast of Oman on Thursday, according to cFlow, S&P Global Platts trade flow software.

Last week, the Gibraltar government seized the VLCC Grace 1 on allegations that the vessel was shipping Iranian crude oil to Syria and that it was in breach of EU sanctions. This was followed by Iranian officials calling for British tankers to be seized in retaliation.

The British Heritage is one of the few remaining UK-flagged tankers operating in the region. Its journey away from the Middle East would take it through the Strait of Hormuz, a stretch of water off Iran's southern coast just 21 miles wide at its narrowest point.

It is part of BP Shipping's Century class fleet of Suezmax tankers, which are the largest tankers able to transit the Suez Canal in a laden condition, and designed to fit through the expanded Panama Canal, with a cargo capacity of over 1 million barrels of oil, according to BP's website.

"Basically, all owners will put their vessels on alert and give them some best practice guidelines while transiting the Straits of Hormuz or passages close to Iran," a broker said. "We don't think Iran will carry out such threats. The repercussions will be heavy."

--Eric Yep, eric.yep@spglobal.com

--Vickey Du, vickey.du@spglobal.com

--Dania Saadi, dania.el.saadi@spglobal.com

--Edited by Claudia Carpenter, claudia.carpenter@spglobal.com

--Edited by Shashwat Pradhan, shashwat.pradhan@spglobal.com