What has happened between Iran and the UK and where is the oil tanker and its crew?

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THE Foreign Office have advised against travel to Iran for all British nationals following the capturing of two British oil tankers and capture of one of the ship’s 23 crew members by the Iranaian National Guard.

UK – Iran tensions have been rising since British-Iranian national Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was detained in Iran in 2016 and on Saturday, Iran’s foreign minister accused the UK of “economic terrorism” as an accessory to the US. Here’s what we know about the conflict.

AP:Associated Press

Officials in Tehran said this month that Iran would keep reducing its commitments to limit enrichment every 60 days unless the the USA lifts its sanctions[/caption]

What has happened between the UK and Iran?

On Friday July 19 two British oil tankers, the Stena Impero and the Mesdar, were apprehended by Iranian forces in the Straight of Hormuz.

Iranian forces say the Mesdar was issued with a warning but released, whereas the Stena Impero and its 23 crew were captured.

Iranian commandos abseiled onto the deck of the Stena Impero from a helicopter in a gunboat and helicopter raid on the British ships, claiming that the vessel had turned off its radar and ignored warnings.

Jeremy hunt said of the hijack: “This is totally and utterly unacceptable. It raises very serious questions about the security of British shipping, and indeed international shipping, in the Strait of Hormuz.”

He added: “Our priority continues to be to find a way to de-escalate the situation.

“That’s why I reached out to the Iranian foreign minister, that’s why due process in Gibraltar continues.

“We need to see due process happening in Iran as well, we need to see the illegal seizing of a British flagged vessel reversed, we need that ship released, and we continue to be very concerned about the safety and welfare of the 23 crew members.”

According to reports, MI5 and MI6 think that Iran could call upon terrorist group Hizbollah’s network of sleeper cells across the UK should war between the UK and Iran erupt.

On July 26, a Royal Navy warship escorted two British tankers through the Persian Gulf .

Prime Minister Boris Johnson ordered that all British-flagged vessels travelling through the Strait of Hormuz be accompanied.

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What happened to the oil tanker and its crew?

Pictures were released on July 22 of the captured crew who can be seen huddled on the ground surrounded by makeshift bedding.

Iran insists that the crew are “safe” and pictures released of the crew seem to show that they are well.

Iran released a picture on July 20 of the captured oil tanker docked in Bandar Abbas, southern Iran.

A picture from on board the Stena Impero shows the crew of the ship after it was captured by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard
Getty – Contributor
Armed members of the Revolutionary Guard patrol the ship on Sunday
AP:Associated Press
Footage from Iranian state media showed the crew gathered on board the ship
They are seen sat round a table talking and seemingly comfortable
Crew members can also be seen on what looks to be the ship’s bridge
AP:Associated Press
The ship seen from a distance down the barrel of a rifle

What has Iran said?

Iran’s foreign minister, Javad Zarif, tweeted: “Unlike the piracy in the Strait of Gibraltar, our action in the Persian Gulf is to uphold international maritime rules.

“As I said in NY, it is IRAN that guarantees the security of the Persian Gulf & the Strait of Hormuz.

“UK must cease being an accessory to #EconomicTerrorism of the US.”

Iran are calling for the return of the British-seized Grace 1 tanker, claiming that it’s “piracy” and  have vowed to retaliate, but Gibraltar is still holding it.

What’s the background to tensions in the Gulf?

Tensions between Iran and Western countries – particularly the US and UK have been running high for some time, with fears it could lead to war.

The US says recent activity by Iran and Iranian-backed forces is destabilising the region and threatening US interests, while Iran says the US is waging “economic war” in order to bring down its government.

Tensions threaten the use of the Strait of Hormuz – almost a fifth of the world’s oil passes through the narrow strait, which lies off the south coast of Iran.

The tensions trace back to disagreements over Iran’s nuclear programme.

Iran has always denied that it is trying to develop nuclear weapons but the international community has been subject to rising worries about Iran’s nuclear activity.

Donald Trump then subsequently pulled out of a deal that had been made in 2015 whereby Iran agreed to limit its nuclear activities – Iran have since retaliated by violating several terms of the agreement and say they will continue to do so unless European countries party to the agreement can do something about Trump’s decision.

Earlier this month, Britain became heavily involved when British Royal Marines helped detain an Iranian tanker in waters off the British overseas territory of Gibraltar after Gibraltar’s government said it believed the tanker was transporting oil to Syria in violation of EU sanctions.

What’s the latest on relations between the UK and Iran?

Iran is a year away from developing a nuclear weapon with capabilities of blitzing Britain and America, Jeremy Hunt has said.

The  former UK Foreign Secretary met with other EU foreign ministers in Brussels on Monday in light of Tehran’s announcement that it will begin enriching uranium above imposed limits – crucial in the development of nuclear weapons.

Mr Hunt told reporters: “Iran is a still a good year away from developing a nuclear weapon.”

A bombshell report from the renowned Institute for Science and International Security claimed that efforts are underway at a heavily-fortified facility to hugely increase its uranium stocks.

However, Mr Hunt reiterated that the Iran nuclear deal was not dead “yet”, saying there was a “small window” to save the Iran nuclear deal, as he launched a fresh bid to ease tensions in the Gulf.

He maintained his commitment to work with the European partners of the deal – France and Germany – to find a way to “preserve” the agreement.

However, he warned that if Iran acquired nuclear weapons it would become “a very, very toxic and dangerous situation”.

He added: “Iran is still a good year away from developing a nuclear weapon. We think there is still a closing, but small, window to keep the deal alive.”

And recently The Royal Navy has since sent a destroyer to the Gulf, days after a British frigate chased off Iranian troops as they tried to storm a BP oil tanker in a suspected revenge attack.

HMS Duncan will patrol the busy shipping lane alongside HMS Montrose as all UK flagged vessels were put on the highest security alert level over fears of further retaliation from Iran’s Revolutionary Guard.

Iran has warned Britain “is playing a dangerous game” and warned western forces to “leave the area”.

In June, Iran was accused of attacking tankers with mines, and it has warned of “consequences” after Royal Marines boarded the Grace 1 supertanker suspected of taking crude oil to Syria.

In fresh threats, Iran’s Foreign ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi told state news agency IRNA: “This is a dangerous game and we advise them not get involved in this game under America’s influence.”

He added: “We ask them again to release the tanker immediately, which will be in all countries’ interest.”

On July 18 Iran seized a small tanker in the Persian Gulf, with Revolutionary Guards claiming it had towed a foreign oil tanker for “smuggling fuel”.

The vessel, a 1,899 dwt tanker, was reported to have been intercepted south of Iran’s Larak Island in the strategic Strait of Hormuz on Sunday and its 12 crew members arrested.

Iran’s nuclear enrichment site at Fordow
Tensions have heightened between Iran and the West

Is it safe to travel to Iran?

All British citizens have been advised against travel to Iran in the wake of the seizure of one oil tanker and its crew.

Dual Iranian-Biritsh citizens have also been advised against all travel to Iran in the wake of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe imprisonment.

The foreign office writes: “There is a risk that British nationals, and a higher risk that British-Iranian dual nationals, could be arbitrarily detained in Iran. All British nationals should consider carefully the risks of travelling to Iran.

“The Iranian authorities don’t recognise dual nationality for Iranian citizens and therefore don’t grant consular access for FCO officials to visit them in detention.”

The Foreign Office said Jeremy Hunt had taken the decision to heighten the warning against unnecessary visits to the Middle Eastern country because of the risks “we have seen all too sadly in a number of cases”.

Tehran continues to hold a British-Iranian charity worker, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, in prison after convicting her of spying, which she denies.

Mr Hunt has previously vowed to leave “no stone unturned” in his efforts to secure her release.

An FCO spokeswoman said: “The Foreign Secretary has taken the decision to advise against all but essential travel by UK-Iranian dual nationals to Iran.

Jeremy Hunt has replaced Boris Johnson as Foreign Secretary
London News Pictures

Jeremy Hunt, who replaced Boris Johnson as Foreign Secretary, has issued new advice for Brits travelling to Iran[/caption]

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“British citizens who also hold Iranian nationality face risks if they travel to Iran, as we have seen all too sadly in a number of cases.

“The Iranian government does not recognise dual nationality so if a dual national is detained our ability to provide support is extremely limited.”

Iran has been rocked by economic unrest in recent months and US sanctions linked to its nuclear programme due to be reinstated in November are likely to make matters worse.

EPA

Iran’s President Rouhani had vowed ‘consequences’ for Britain’s dramatic seizure of an Iranian tanker bound for Syria[/caption]

What is the new travel advice?

The latest travel advice from the Foreign Office warns: “British nationals, in particular dual British/Iranian nationals, face greater risks than nationals of many other countries.

“The security forces may be suspicious of people with British connections.

“The risks are likely to be higher for independent travellers or students than for people travelling as part of an organised tour or business people invited by the Iranian authorities or companies.

“If you have links to any organisation perceived as being anti-Iranian, either within Iran or elsewhere, you may be at even greater risk.”

It goes on to warn that if people are detained the UK Government has “serious concerns that the subsequent judicial process falls below international standards”.

The travel advice continues: “Any behaviour that doesn’t have an obvious explanation can put you at risk, no matter how innocent you believe it to be.

“This may include travel off the beaten track, being present near crowds or sensitive sites, having contact with Iranians who are of interest to the authorities, taking photographs (except in major tourist sites), or behaviour that could be perceived as contrary to official Iranian interpretations of Islam.

“The threat to travellers is likely to be higher if there’s any national unrest, terrorist incident or an increase in tensions between Iran and the international community.”


Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who has been locked up in an Iranian prison for more than two years, is reunited with her four-year-old daughter Gabriella
FREE NAZANIN CAMPAIGN

Nazanin was jailed after travelling to Iran with her daughter[/caption]

Who is Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe?

Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe, from Hampstead, north London, was sentenced to five years in jail after being accused of spying by Tehran’s Islamist regime.

She denies the allegation and said she was on holiday in Iran to allow her daughter to spend time with relatives there.

Her four-year-old daughter Gabriella has been staying with family since Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who works for the Thomson Reuters Foundation, was detained at Imam Khomeini airport in April 2016.

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