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Tanker crews ‘safe and well’ in Iranian waters as Greece condemns ‘piracy’

Tanker company spokesman: ‘This is a political issue and we are in the middle’

Prudent Warrior has been moved to Bandar Abbas and has passed port state control inspection, according to Polembros

ONE of the two Greece-flagged oil tankers seized in the Middle East Gulf on Friday has been moved to an anchorage off Bandar Abbas, Iran’s largest port.

Manager Polembros Shipping confirmed that its suezmax Prudent Warrior (IMO: 9753545) was waiting at the anchorage.

The tanker’s new position was also shown on Monday morning when its Automatic Identification System transponder was switched on again after contact was lost around lunchtime on May 27.

Contrary to widespread reports, the other vessel, Delta Tankers’ Delta Poseidon (IMO: 9468671), is believed to remain far north of Bandar Abbas, anchored off Asaluyeh to where it was diverted on Friday. But its AIS transponder has remained switched off since it was intercepted making it more difficult to track its latest position.

Delta Tankers has been approached for comment.

Both tankers were boarded by contingents from Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps after loading crude oil at the Iraqi port of Basrah.

The cargoes are believed to have been ultimately bound for Greece and the US.

Nearly 50 seafarers on board the two vessels have been reported as being safe and in good health.

The 49 crew members manning the tankers include 10 Greek nationals, one Cypriot and 38 Filipinos. 

The IRGC said in a statement on its website that the vessels had been seized because of “violations”, without elaborating on what these may be.

However, other Iranian statements have made it sufficiently clear that the tankers have been snatched in retaliation for Greek involvement in a move just a few days earlier to enable a cargo of Iranian oil to be confiscated by the US under its sanctions against Tehran.

On Saturday, an Iranian foreign ministry spokesman went out of his way to emphasise the country’s historic ties with Greece and respect for its “great people”.

However, he warned: “Our ties must not be hampered by deeply short-sighted miscalculations, including highway robbery on the command of a third party.”

The tanker crews were “safe and in good health”.

For its part the Greek government has made strong protests over the incidents to the Iranian ambassador in Athens.

Greece has called for the immediate release of the two tankers and their crews, calling their seizure “tantamount to acts of piracy”.

The country’s shipping ministry said that in co-operation with the ministry of foreign affairs it was doing “everything possible” to free the vessels and crew members.

In a statement, shipping minister Ioannis Plakiotakis said that the actions by the IRGC threatened to “blow up” Iran’s relations not only with Greece but also the EU.

The main Greek political opposition party of Syriza also condemned the seizures as “unacceptable”.

It said: “International law does not legitimise such ‘retaliation’ that lies outside of international legitimacy, whatever the Iranian government’s objections.”

But Syriza also sought to put pressure on the government. It is demanding further details of the legal basis for last week acceding to a US application to seize the Iranian oil cargo off the aframax Lana (IMO: 9256860) (ex-Pegas) that the Greek authorities detained last month after it anchored off Karystos.

Polembros managing director George Vakirtzis said that all crew on board Prudent Warrior were well and had their mobile phones returned to them on Saturday.

The ship “went through a port state control inspection, with no findings”, he said.

Iranian officials and guards had been “quite nice” to the crew, he said.

“The whole thing is a political issue,” said Mr Vakirtzis. “The unfortunate thing is we are in the middle.”

The incidents have already strongly called to mind the interception in the Straits of Hormuz of the British-flagged tanker Stena Impero (IMO: 9797400) nearly three years ago.

On that occasion the Iranians strongly denied the action was retaliation for the seizure of an Iranian tanker off Gibraltar.

Several the crew were released after several weeks although the tanker was freed, with the majority of crew still on board, two months after it was snatched.

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