Stena Impero freed amid continued geopolitical tensions

British oil tanker "Stena Impero" surrounded by speedboats of Iran's Islamic Revolution Guard Corps. Credit: (Morteza Akhoundi/ISNA/Handout via Xinhua

After a two-month wait, Iran has freed British-flagged tanker Stena Impero from its detention near Bandar Abbas, in the Strait of Hormuz.

“The legal process has finished and based on that the conditions for letting the oil tanker go free have been fulfilled and the oil tanker can move,” said Iranian government spokesperson Ali Rabiei, speaking to Iranian national news.

Iran’s UK ambassador Hamid Baeidinejad further tweeted, saying, “The British flagged tanker “Stena Impero”, pursuant to the completion of the judicial and legal process, is now free to leave.”

Although Iran maintains that Stena Impero was “not following international maritime regulations”, the boarding and detention of the ship was regarded as a like-for-like retaliation for the detention of VLCC Grace 1 – now renamed to Adrian Darya 1 – on suspicion of carrying oil to UN-embargoed Syria.

The United States, meanwhile, issued a bounty for the arrest of Adrian Darya 1 before its oil could be sold to anyone, as part of its campaign of “maximum [economic] pressure” on Iran. However, reports suggest that following its release by Gibraltarian authorities, the ship has successfully exported its cargo to Syria.

The release of Stena Impero comes at a sensitive time, following a missile attack on an Aramco oil facility in Khurais, Saudi Arabia. While Yemen’s Houthi rebels claimed responsibility for the attack, Saudi Arabia has argued that, in the words of Saudi Defence ministry spokesperson Colonel Turki al-Malki, “the precision impact of the cruise missiles indicate advanced capability beyond the [Houthi rebels’] capacity”. The attack was described as “an act of war” by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Meanwhile it has been widely reported that US President Donald Trump appeared to threaten Iran in retaliation for the attack with ‘the ultimate option’; however, Trump caveated this statement with his continued reluctance to involve the US in another war in the Middle East.