Iran Releases 9 Indian Crew Members From Panamanian-Flagged Tanker

Wire Service
By Wire Service
July 26, 2019World News
Iran Releases 9 Indian Crew Members From Panamanian-Flagged Tanker
The Panama-flagged, Japanese owned oil tanker Kokuka Courageous, that the U.S. Navy says was damaged by a limpet mine, is anchored off Fujairah, United Arab Emirates, during a trip organized by the Navy for journalists, on June 19, 2019. (Fay Abuelgasim/AP)

Iran has released nine of the 12 Indian crew members who were on board a Panamanian-flagged oil tanker it seized after claiming the vessel was carrying 1 million liters of smuggled fuel.

The move comes as Iran granted consular access to 18 Indian crew members of a separate vessel, the seized British-flagged oil tanker Stena Impero.

The nine sailors were released from the vessel M/T RIAH, the Indian Ministry for External Affairs spokesman Raveesh Kumar confirmed in a statement on July 26.

“They will be on their way to India soon,” Kumar said. “Our mission in Iran has requested the concerned Iranian authorities for the release of remaining crew members.”

Iranian state media said Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) forces ambushed the tanker on July 14. The IRGC said it had initially responded to distress calls from a ship but when they searched it, they discovered it was a fuel smuggling operation, so they seized the tanker, which had 12 people on board.

And last week, Press TV released video purporting to show the tanker with markings saying “RIAH” and “Panama.”

U.S. intelligence officials have been investigating what happened to the M/T RIAH. The ship-tracking website Marine Vessel Traffic has not had a current location for the tanker since July 7.

After U.S. intelligence raised fears that the ship had been forced into Iranian waters last weekend, Iran said that it had assisted one vessel suffering a technical glitch.

It remains unclear who owns the ship. While the initial U.S. intelligence suggested that the tanker was UAE-owned, the United Arab Emirates has said that the tanker in question was “neither owned nor operated by the UAE. It does not carry Emirati personnel, and did not emit a distress call,” according to state-run WAM.

Consular Access

Meanwhile, Iran’s Ambassador to the U.K., Hamid Baeidinejad, said Thursday that the Indian Embassy in Tehran had been granted consular access to 18 Indian crew members on board the British-flagged oil tanker Stena Impero, seized by Iran in the Strait of Hormuz last week.

“Indian Embassy in Tehran was granted consular access to meet the 18 Indian crew of the detained British ship Stena Impero,” Baeidinejad said on Twitter.

“Similar access is underway to other 5 crew from other nationalities. Indian embassy has reported to find the crew being very calm with no sense of panic.”

Indian Minister of State for External Affairs, V. Muraleedharan, on Thursday tweeted a picture of Stena Impero’s crew, who hail from India, Latvia, the Philippines, and Russia.

“Received an update on ‘Stena Impero.’ Our Embassy availed consular access today evening. All 18 Indian crew members on board are safe and doing fine. Will continue to push for their early release,” the tweet said.

A spokesperson for Stena Bulk, the company that operates the tanker, said it was in contact with both the U.K. and Swedish governments and that local staff in the crew’s four home countries were “in constant touch with the families” of the crew and will “continue to do everything humanly possible to keep them informed and to support them in every way we can.”

British-flagged tanker Stena Impero
Iranian Revolutionary Guards patrolling around the British-flagged tanker Stena Impero as it’s anchored off the Iranian port city of Bandar Abbas on July 21, 2019. (Hasan Shirvani/AFP/Getty Images)

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