The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) recently seized the British oil tanker the Stena Impero in the Persian Gulf. The IRGC not only released video of the seizure, in which men dropped from a helicopter onto the tanker, but it also released video of the Islamic call to prayer from the loudspeaker of the British oil tanker. Two weeks ago, the UK had seized an Iranian tanker, Grace 1, off the coast of Gibraltar. The UK claims the Iranian tanker was carrying oil to the Syrian government, which is under an EU embargo.
Rabei rejected similarities to the seizure of the tankers. “The British tanker was seized in Iranian waters,” Rabei said. The Iranian tanker was “seized illegally” in Spanish waters, even according to Spanish officials, he added. “We decided to implement international laws in our own waters” by seizing the British tanker, Rabei said.
Rabei said the British tanker committed a “legal violation” and Iran seized it “for the security of the region.” In response to countries asking Iran to release the seized British tanker, Rabei said, “Actually, we want these countries to say the same thing to the British.” He said the alleged violations committed by the British tanker included turning off their location device, entering via a southern path instead of through the Strait of Hormuz and ignoring repeated warnings.
Despite Rabei’s claims that the crisis could be resolved through diplomacy, he does not believe it can be solved soon. “We believe that this could be solved diplomatically,” Rabei said, “But we’ve become accustomed to the American and British logic that they take nonfriendly and illegal actions but have an issue when someone responds legally to those actions.”
Rabei also rejected analyses that Iran’s seizure of Stena Impero was in response to the UK’s seizure of Grace 1. He tweeted July 22, “The UK-flagged ship has not been seized for retaliation. When the good faith in bilateral relations is undermined, the UK cannot expect their illegal actions in the Strait of Hormuz to be construed optimistically. We hope Britain would attempt to restore trust.”
Iranian media is certainly trying to make the case that Iran’s seizure of the British tanker was legal and justified. Assadollah Gharahkhani, a member of parliament’s energy commission, said July 22, “Unlike the British seizure of an Iranian tanker, Iran’s actions in seizing the British tanker were completely legal.” Gharahkhani reiterated claims made by Rabei that the British tanker had turned off its GPS and ignored multiple warnings, adding that the British tanker was in Iranian waters at the time of the seizure. In contrast, he said, the Iranian tanker seized by the UK had not been in British waters. He also said Iran is not a part of the EU and should not have been subject to EU sanctions with respect to Syria.