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Iran to 'soon' release British-flagged Stena Impero tanker

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Iran to 'soon' release British-flagged Stena Impero tanker

Tehran — Iran's foreign ministry said late-Sunday the British-flagged chemical tanker Stena Impero, which it had detained in mid-July, will be released soon.

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Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi speaking to State television said "the last legal and judicial stages" to free the tanker are being processed.

"Necessary measures are being taken to completely remove the detention from the British oil tanker," added Mousavi. " ... [It could be] be released soon."

Last week, Iran released seven crew members of the Stena Impero, which had been detained by Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps on July 19 for violating maritime rules and colliding with other vessels. Stena Bulk, which operates this tanker has repeatedly denied these allegations.

This detention had taken place after senior Iranian officials had suggested a British tanker could be seized in response to the detention of the Adrian Darya 1, formerly known as Grace 1.

The Adrian Darya 1 was released by Gibraltar in mid-August after being seized on suspicion of attempting to deliver oil to sanctions-hit Syria. A US request to seize the tanker on different grounds was later rejected by Gibraltar.

MYSTERY BUYER

Mousavi also said the Adrian Darya had recently offloaded the 2.1 million barrel crude cargo to an unnamed buyer "on the sea surface."

The tanker has stopped broadcasting its Automatic Identification System (AIS) data since September 2, according to cFlow, Platts trade flow software.

But shipping sources said the tanker had discharged some of its oil through ship-to-ship transfer, offloading the crude to smaller tankers.

"We took the legal, political and diplomatic measures that were necessary for this oil tanker to continue its course and brings its cargo to the destination," Mousavi added. "Now, it is on the Mediterranean coast."

Various media reports citing US satellite data have said that that the tanker was last seen near the Syrian port of Tartus.

Since US imposed sanctions on Iran's oil sector in November, the OPEC member has been regularly using ship-to-ship transfer to sell its oil at ports.

Iranian crude is shipped to these regions using feeder ships and then transferred to smaller vessels that do not mention Iran as the origin.

Ship operators in the Middle East have been on high alert and insurance rates have soared since tanker attacks in the Gulf of Oman in May and June. The US has blamed Iran for the attacks, although Iran denies responsibility. Tensions escalated after the US pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal, reimposing sanctions on the country.

The US has announced a maritime security partnership, aimed at improving security in the straits of Hormuz and Bab al-Mandeb. The UK, Bahrain and Australia have publicly joined the partnership.

Iran has repeatedly issued threats to close or disrupt traffic through the Strait of Hormuz, should the US sanctions block its oil shipments. The Strait of Hormuz is a critical chokepoint through which 30% of the world's seaborne oil transits.

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

--Aresu Eqbali, newsdesk@spglobal.com

--Edited by Kshitiz Goliya, kshitizgoliya@spglobal.com