Iran seized two British-operated oil tankers in the Strait of Hormuz Friday, marking a fresh escalation of tensions between Tehran and the West.
The U.K.-flagged Stena Impero, which has a crew of 23 aboard, “was approached by unidentified small crafts and a helicopter during transit of the Strait of Hormuz while the vessel was in international waters,” Stena Bulk, the shipping company that owns the vessel, said in a statement. “We are presently unable to contact the vessel which is now heading north towards Iran.”
Iran’s Revolutionary Guard forces, in a statement on their website, say the ship was seized for “non-compliance with international maritime laws and regulations” and is being brought to an unnamed Iranian port, according to the Associated Press. Websites tracking the ship’s path showed it turning sharply in the direction of Iran’s Qeshm Island, instead of its intended destination of Saudi Arabia.
“We are urgently seeking further information and assessing the situation following reports of an incident in the Gulf,” a U.K. government spokesperson told Fox News.
Approximately an hour later, a Liberian-flagged tanker operated by a British company was also seized by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and was seen on maritime tracking services making a turn toward Iran.
“I’m extremely concerned by the seizure of two naval vessels by Iranian authorities in the Strait of Hormuz,” British foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt said in a statement on Friday adding that the crews of both ships “comprise of a range of nationalities, but we understand there are no British citizens on board either ship.”
“Our Ambassador in Tehran is in contact with the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs to resolve the situation and we are working closely with international partners,” Hunt said. “These seizures are unacceptable. It is essential that freedom of navigation is maintained and that all ships can move safely and freely in the region.”
President Trump said Friday that Iran is “nothing but trouble” and that “we heard one, we heard two,” tankers were seized.
“Iran is showing their colors,” the president told reporters before departing the White House to spend the weekend at his golf club in Bedmister, N.J. “Iran is in big trouble right now. Their economy is crashing, it’s coming to a crash … It’s very easy to straighten out or it’s very easy for us to make it worse.”
“This is the second time in just over a week the UK has been the target of escalatory violence by the Iranian regime,” National Security Council Spokesman Garrett Marquis said. “The U.S. will continue to work with our allies and partners to defend our security and interests against Iran’s malign behavior.”
The Pentagon had no official statement on the situation, but Fox News has learned that there are no current plans for U.S. naval vessels to escort commercial ships through the strait.
Stena Bulk says “there have been no reported injuries and their safety is of primary concern to both owners and managers.”
The seizures come two weeks after British Royal Marines seized a tanker off the island of Gibralter that authorities said carried oil bound for Syria in violation of European Union sanctions. Iran warned Britain that it would face “repercussions” over that seizure, which it called “mean and wrong.” Last week, a British warship blocked three Iranian vessels from seizing another U.K.-flagged tanker.
UK Chamber of Shipping CEO Bob Sanguinetti said in a statement that the seizure was “in violation of international regulations which protect ships and their crews as they go about their legitimate business in international waters” and called on the British government to do “whatever is necessary” to ensure the safe and swift return of the ship’s crew.
Earlier Friday, Iran and the United States emphatically disagreed over Washington’s claim that a U.S. warship downed an Iranian drone near the Persian Gulf. American officials said they used electronic jamming to bring down the unmanned aircraft, while Iran said it simply didn’t happen.
Neither side provided evidence to prove its claim.
At the White House on Friday, President Trump said flatly of the Iranian drone: “We shot it down.” But Pentagon and other officials have said repeatedly that the amphibious assault ship USS Boxer actually jammed the drone’s signal, causing it to crash, and did not fire a missile. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive technology.
“There is no question this was an Iranian drone, and the USS Boxer took it out as the president announced yesterday because it posed a threat to the ship and its crew,” National Security Adviser John Bolton said. “It’s entirely the right thing to do.”
In Tehran, the Iranian military said all its drones had returned safely to their bases and denied there was any confrontation with the USS Boxer.
Fox News’ Rich Edson, Jennifer Griffin, Lucas Tomlinson, Vandana Rambaran and The Associated Press contributed to this report.