Iran crisis: EU calls for the ‘immediate release’ of UK-flagged tanker captured by Iran

Brussels has warned the incident, which saw the Stena Impero and her 23 crew members seized by Iranian forces while passing through the Strait of Hormuz, has risked “further escalation” of the tensions in the region. The state-affiliated Fars news agency released photographs and video that appear to show the moment the tanker was raided and its crew being held under guard on the vessel. EU foreign policy chiefs fear the stand-off with Britain could undermine the bloc’s efforts to keep Iran nuclear deal alive, which eased international sanctions in return for Tehran accepting curbs on its nuclear programme.

The pact – still supported by Britain, France and Germany – was thrown into chaos when President Donald Trump abandoned US support for it.

In a statement, the European Commission’s External Action Service said: “The seizure of two ships by Iranian authorities in the Strait of Hormuz is of deep concern.

“In an already tense situation, this development brings risks of further escalation and undermines ongoing work to find a way to resolve current tensions.

“We urge the immediate release of the remaining ship and its crew, and call for restraint to avoid further tensions. Freedom of navigation must be respected at all times.”

Theresa May chaired an emergency meeting of the Government’s Cobra committee this morning as Downing Street repeated its calls for Iran to immediately release the tanker.

Mrs May’s spokesman said: “The ship was seized under false and illegal pretences and the Iranians should release it and its crew immediately.”

Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt has held talks with EU counterparts France’s Jean-Yves Le Drian and Germany’s Heiko Maas.

The trio have agreed that providing safe passage for ships in the State of Hormuz is their “top priority” and they will “work together to achieve this”.

Latvia has urged the member states to cooperate to free “the only EU national onboard of the UK shop, the chief officer who is Latvian national”.

Mr Hunt is expected to update MPs on the situation in a statement to the House of Commons later today.

On Friday, he said the tanker was illegally seized in Omani waters and forced to sail into the Bander Abbas port on the Iran’s southern coast.

The Stena Impero’s seizure comes two weeks after Royal Marines helped impound Iranian tanker Grace 1 off Gibraltar amid reports that it was carrying oil to Syria in breach of EU sanctions.

Tehran today also claimed arrested 17 Iranian nationals allegedly recruited by the United States’ Central Intelligence Agency.

The Middle Eastern state claims they were recruited to spy on the country’s nuclear and military sites and some have been sentenced to death.

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