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Japan's MOL maintains advisory for UK-related vessels to keep distance from Iran coast

Tokyo — Japan's Mitsui O.S.K. Lines is maintaining its advisory for its UK-related vessels to keep a distance when sailing along the Iranian coast in the Persian Gulf, including the Strait Hormuz, in the wake of rising tensions in the region, a company spokesman told S&P Global Platts Monday.

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MOL, one of Japan's largest ship owners, remains on high alert after the UK government advised British ships to avoid the area "for an interim period" after Iran seized on Friday a UK chemical tanker and briefly detained a UK-owned VLCC in the Strait of Hormuz, ratcheting up regional tensions and risks to oil shipments.

Under the notice first issued on July 11, MOL had advised its ships with UK-related flags to avoid navigating the Iranian territorial water as well as keeping the distance along the coast as much as possible, the spokesman said, but declined to elaborate. UK-related flags include Bermuda, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Gibraltar, and Isle of Man.

The initial advisory was issued when tensions surrounding the UK oil tankers' transit through the Strait of Hormuz were intensifying. On July 4, Panama-flagged VLCC Grace-1, allegedly carrying Iranian crude oil for the Banyas Refinery in Syria, was detained along with its cargo by Gibraltar Port agencies, the Royal Marines, and British customs. The Gibraltar government said Grace 1 was acting in breach of European Union sanctions against Syria.

A few days later, media reports stated that the Isle of Man-flagged VLCC Pacific Voyager, owned by MOL, was escorted by military vessels on its transit through the Strait of Hormuz.

The vessel departed the Saudi Arabian port of Ras Tanura on July 8 and arrived at the UAE port of Fujairah on July 9, according to cFlow vessel tracking data.

On July 8, Platts reported that a crude shipment on the Isle of Man-flagged suezmax British Heritage, managed by oil major BP's shipping arm, was canceled due to escalating tensions between the UK and Iran, as Iran's Revolutionary Guards had threatened to block British vessels in retaliation for the detention of Grace-1.

The British Heritage was chartered by Shell to load a 140,000 mt crude cargo at Basrah over July 5-7 for delivery to Northwest Europe or the Mediterranean.

On July 11, The UK government said "contrary to international law, three Iranian vessels attempted to impede the passage of a commercial vessel, British Heritage, through the Strait of Hormuz," and "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."

Iran's Revolutionary Guards denied responsibility for the incident with British Heritage, according to a statement carried by Fars news agency.

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(Corrects government in 2nd paragraph.)

--Takeo Kumagai, takeo.kumagai@spglobal.com

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

--Edited by Norazlina Juma'at, norazlina.jumaat@spglobal.com