TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — A British-flagged oil tanker held by Iran since July has left Iranian territorial waters, Iran’s marine and port authority said Friday morning.
The authority’s website said the Stena Impero was heading to international waters. Hours earlier, the tanker had begun transmitting its location for the first time in weeks just outside the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas, where it had been held since its seizure.
The Stena Impero’s owner, Swedish-based Stena Bulk, earlier told The Associated Press the vessel was “preparing to leave Bandar Abbas.”
The ship tracking site MarineTraffic.com showed the ship moving south away from Bandar Abbas at a speed of 12 knots (around 14 miles per hour, 22 kilometers per hour).
Iran seized the tanker in July in the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow mouth of the Persian Gulf through which 20% of all oil passes on July 19. The raid saw commandos rappel down onto the vessel via helicopter carrying assault rifles, dramatic images later replayed on state television.
That came after authorities in Gibraltar, a British overseas territory, on July 4 seized an Iranian oil tanker carrying some $130 million in crude oil. British marines helped take control of the ship on suspicion it was breaking European Union sanctions on Syria. Gibraltar later released the tanker, then called the Grace 1, after it said Iran promised the ship wouldn’t go to Syria.
That ship, renamed the Adrian Darya 1, later sat off the Syrian coast, angering Britain. Iran hasn’t said who purchased its 2.1 million barrels of crude oil.
On Monday, Iranian government spokesman Ali Rabiei had told journalists the Stena Impero could leave.
“Based on a friendly approach that allows forgiving mistakes, ground for freedom of the tanker has been paved and it can move,” Rabiei said. But the ship did not leave Iran for days.
Earlier this month, Iran released seven crew members of the Stena Impero. Sixteen remained on board.
The ship seizures come after months of heightened tensions in the Persian Gulf, sparked by President Donald Trump’s decision over a year ago to unilaterally pull out of a nuclear deal with Iran. The U.S. has imposed sanctions that have kept Iran from selling its oil abroad and have crippled its economy. Iran has since begun breaking terms of the deal.
Meanwhile, there have been a series of attacks across the Middle East that the U.S. blames on Iran. They reached their height on Sept. 14, with a missile and drone attack on the world’s largest oil processor in Saudi Arabia and an oil field, which caused oil prices to spike by the biggest percentage since the 1991 Gulf War. While Yemen’s Iranian-allied Houthi rebels claimed the assault, Saudi Arabia says it was “unquestionably sponsored by Iran.”
Iran denies being responsible and has warned any retaliatory attack targeting it will result in an “all-out war.”
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