Crew seen in first pictures from inside UK-flagged oil tanker seized by Iran
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The crew of a British-flagged oil tanker seized by Iran in the Gulf have been pictured inside the vessel for the first time since armed soldiers took control.
Some of the 23 personnel stationed aboard the Stena Impero are seen working in the kitchen and assembled around a table, while others are visible near the windows on one of the decks, looking up towards an official stood in-front of them alongside a large pile of shoes.
Tehran had already released video footage of the moment on Friday that members of the Iran Revolutionary Guard rappelled on to the vessel, which is now being held at the Bandar Abbas port.
Those on-board the Swedish-owned, European-operated tanker are from India, Latvia, Russia and the Philippines – and all are said to be in “good health”.
Among the crew is Dijo Pappachan, from Kochi, India, whose parents have said they are “shocked” by the situation.
His father, TV Pappachan, told the Khaleej Times newspaper: “He called and spoke with his mother on Thursday morning saying he is on his way to Saudi Arabia from Dubai. To our utter shock, we got a call from his company the next day saying the ship is under Iran’s custody.
“I am not speaking only for my son. All the 23 crew members set sail to foreign countries for work. They are on-board to make a living. We are all praying for the entire crew’s safe return.”
The crew had been expecting to arrive in the Saudi Arabian industrial city of Jubail on Sunday, having departed Fujairah on the east coast of the United Arab Emirates on Thursday.
As it passed westward through the Strait of Hormuz on Friday, it was approached by unidentified small crafts and a helicopter, from which troops from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard rappelled on to the vessel to seize control.
The vessel’s course shifted north towards the Iranian coast.
Some 40 minutes later, there was a similar course shift by the UK-operated, Liberian-flagged Mesdar.
That crew was allowed to continue their voyage a few hours later after the ship was boarded by armed guards.
The seizure of the Stena Impero in the Strait of Hormuz has sparked widespread condemnation in the UK, with a Cobra emergency committee meeting chaired by Prime Minister Theresa May.
Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt has said it looked like Iran was choosing a “dangerous path of illegal and destabilising behaviour”, but wants a “diplomatic solution” to the dispute.
He is due to update the House of Commons on the situation, with sanctions against Iran for its “illegal interference” said to be on the cards.
Ministers are reportedly considering freezing Iranian regime assets, which will exacerbate tensions that have been on a rapid rise since US sanctions came into effect at the start of May.
It began when two US oil tankers in the region were attacked on 13 June, with Iran denying it was to blame after the regime was accused by Donald Trump.
Britain has since become embroiled in a tit-for-tat of its own, starting with the involvement of Royal Marines in the seizure of an Iranian supertanker near Gibraltar due to suspicions it was carrying oil to the Syrian regime.
Bob Seely MP, from the foreign affairs committee, has said the situation constitutes a “massive crisis” that will only grow unless there is “an Iranian nuclear deal that gets the US back in it”.
Mr Trump took the US out of the international agreement earlier this year, and its remaining Western backers fear it will soon collapse.
The deal – considered one of the most significant foreign policy achievements of the Obama administration – was designed to see Iran eliminate its stockpile of medium-enriched uranium, cut its stockpile of low-enriched uranium and reduce the number of its gas centrifuges for 13 years.
Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif has blamed the US for the current situation in the Gulf, saying Washington wants to drag the UK “into a quagmire”.
Meanwhile, Iran claims it has broken up a CIA spying ring and sentenced some of the 17 suspects to death.