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Iran seizes two UK tankers, ratchets up Strait of Hormuz oil flow risks

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Stena Impero chemical tanker seized, VLCC Mesdar released

Iran's IRGC says it seized Stena Bulk for shipping violation: state TV

UK foreign secretary 'extremely concerned' by incidents

Washington — Iran seized a UK chemical tanker and briefly detained a UK-owned VLCC in the Strait of Hormuz Friday, ratcheting up regional tensions and risks to oil shipments.
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UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said he was "extremely concerned" by the two incidents, and was convening a cabinet meeting to review how to "swiftly secure the release" of the vessels.

"These seizures are unacceptable," Hunt said in a statement. "It is essential that freedom of navigation is maintained and that all ships can move safely and freely in the region."

The UK-flagged Stena Impero chemicals tanker was attacked Friday by "unidentified small crafts and a helicopter" around 1500 GMT while transiting the Strait of Hormuz and is heading toward Iran, owner Stena Bulk confirmed.

The Liberian-flagged VLCC Mesdar was boarded by armed personnel around 1630 GMT and out of contact while its headed north toward Iran, owner Norbulk Shipping said in a statement. By 2000 GMT, the company re-established communication and confirmed the armed guards left the vessel and allowed it to continue its voyage. "All crew are safe and well," Norbulk said.

Several news agencies in Iran, including state television and semiofficial Tasnimnews, quoted military sources as saying that only the Stena Impero had been seized, and the Mesdar was not detained. The Iranian reports said the Mesdar was briefed on the necessity of shipping without harming and respecting environmental regulations and allowed to continue on its route.

Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps said it seized the Stena Impero "due to a violation of international laws and regulations while passing through the Strait of Hormuz," according to state TV. It took the tanker to the country's Ports and Maritime Organization for "legal procedures and necessary examinations."

Both tankers bound for Saudi Arabia

The incidents have escalated tensions in the region a day after President Donald Trump said the US Navy shot down an Iranian drone. About 30% of the world's seaborne crude travels through the Strait of Hormuz.

The 315,802-dwt Mesdar was heading to Ras Tanura, Saudi Arabia, after sailing from Port Dickson, Malaysia, July 4, according to cFlow, Platts trade flow software.

The 49,683-dwt Stena Impero was heading toward Jubail, Saudi Arabia, after leaving Fujairah earlier Friday, cFlow showed.

Stena Bulk said the company is unable to contact the vessel. It has heard no reports of injuries among the 23 crew members, and their "safety is of primary concern to both owners and managers."

Trump said Thursday that the USS Boxer destroyed an Iranian drone that came within 1,000 yards and ignored "multiple calls to stand down."

Iranian officials have denied that any of its drones were shot down.

The incidents come after IRGC told state TV it seized the MT Riah tanker and its crew of 12 on July 14 when on its way to deliver smuggled fuel taken from "Iranian boats to foreign ships in farther areas."

The report contradicted a statement from an Iranian foreign ministry spokesman two days ago, which said the MT Riah had asked for help after experiencing "technical problems" and it had been towed into Iranian waters for necessary repairs.

The UK government said last week that an oil tanker owned by BP, the British Heritage, was approached by three Iranian vessels in the Persian Gulf attempting to impede the vessel.

US officials met Friday with international diplomats to build support for a "maritime security initiative" for the Persian Gulf, Strait of Hormuz, and Gulf of Oman. The meeting was closed to press, and the State Department has not released any details.

Ship operators in the Middle East have been on high alert and insurance rates have soared since tanker attacks near Fujairah in May and June. The US has blamed Iran for the attacks.

--Meghan Gordon, meghan.gordon@spglobal.com

--Eklavya Gupte, eklavya.gupte@spglobal.com

--Aresu Eqbali, newsdesk@spglobal.com

--Edited by Keiron Greenhalgh, keiron.greenhalgh@spglobal.com