Iran hints it could release UK-flagged tanker ‘within days’
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Iran hints it could release UK-flagged tanker ‘within days’

Tehran says it’s taking final steps to free Stena Impero, whose seizure was seen as a tit-for-tat move after Britain detained Iranian ship off Gibraltar

Iranian Revolutionary Guards patrol around the British-flagged tanker Stena Impero while it is anchored off the Iranian port city of Bandar Abbas, on July 21, 2019. (Hasan Shirvani / MIZAN NEWS AGENCY / AFP)
Iranian Revolutionary Guards patrol around the British-flagged tanker Stena Impero while it is anchored off the Iranian port city of Bandar Abbas, on July 21, 2019. (Hasan Shirvani / MIZAN NEWS AGENCY / AFP)

TEHRAN, Iran — Iran on Sunday hinted that it could release “within days” a UK-flagged oil tanker it had seized in July in sensitive Gulf waters amid rising hostilities with Britain’s ally the United States.

Foreign ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi told state television the “necessary steps” to set the Swedish-owned ship free were “underway.”

“The final steps of the legal procedure are underway and, God willing, the boat will be released in the coming days,” he said, without giving further details.

The seizure of the Stena Impero was seen as a tit-for-tat move after British authorities detained an Iranian tanker off Gibraltar in July on suspicion it was shipping oil to Syria in breach of EU sanctions.

Gibraltar released the ship — formerly called the Grace 1, but since renamed the Adrian Darya 1 — on August 18, after receiving written assurances from Iran that it would not head to countries under EU sanctions.

Tehran denied it had made any promises about the destination of the ship laden with 2.1 million barrels of oil, which had been elusive since leaving Gibraltar.

This satellite image provided by Maxar Technologies appears to show the Iranian oil tanker Adrian Darya-1 off the coast of Tartus, Syria, on September 6, 2019. (Satellite image ©2019 Maxar Technologies via AP)

On Sunday, Mousavi said the Adrian Darya “has reached its destination and the oil has been sold,” without providing further details.

Mousavi did not specify if the Adrian Darya had unloaded its cargo.

“It is in the Mediterranean,” he said, facing the coast of a country he did not name.

Iran last month said it had “sold the oil” aboard the tanker and that the owner will decide the destination, but it did not identify the buyer.

Maritime tracking service TankerTrackers said that as of Sunday night the Adrian Darya was off the coast of Syria’s Tartus, but had not unloaded the oil.

Crew members of the British-flagged tanker Stena Impero, that was seized by Tehran in the Strait of Hormuz, released on July 22, 2019. (Iran’s state-run IRIB News Agency via AP)

Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps seized the Stena Impero on July 19 in the Strait of Hormuz with 23 crew members on board, claiming it broke “international maritime rules.”

On Wednesday, the Swedish foreign ministry said that some of the crew had been released, after the vessel’s owners said they expected seven to be set free on that day.

Tensions between Iran and the US have soared ever since Washington stepped up its campaign of “maximum pressure” against Tehran and reimposed sanctions after leaving the landmark 2015 nuclear deal last year.

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