The Slatest

Listen to Tense Exchange Between Iranian Forces, British Navy Before Oil Tanker Was Seized

A picture taken on July 21, 2019, shows Iranian Revolutionary Guards patrolling around the British-flagged tanker Stena Impero as it's anchored off the Iranian port city of Bandar Abbas.
A picture taken on July 21, 2019, shows Iranian Revolutionary Guards patrolling around the British-flagged tanker Stena Impero as it’s anchored off the Iranian port city of Bandar Abbas.
HASAN SHIRVANI/Getty Images

An audio recording was released that reveals there was a tense exchange between British and Iranian naval forces right before a British-flagged oil tanker was seized in the Strait of Hormuz. But despite the tough words there was nothing the British Navy could do to prevent the seizure. British maritime security firm Dryad Global released the audio between Royal Navy frigate HMS Montrose and Iranian forces. An Iranian official can be heard in the recording telling the ship, which is believed to be the Stena Impero that was seized on Friday, to alter its course. “If you obey you will be safe,” the Iranian official says.

HMS Montrose then identifies itself in the recording and tells the Stena Impero that its passage must be allowed. “I reiterate as you are conducting transit passage in a recognised international strait, under international law your passage must not be impaired, impeded, obstructed or hampered,” the Royal Navy officer says. He then directs some words toward the Iranian official: “Please confirm that you are not intending to violate international law by unlawfully attempting to board the MV Stena.” The words did nothing to stop the seizure. British ofificials said the HMS Montrose was around 60 minutes from the scene so there was no way it could intervene effectively.

The audio of the exchange that took place moments before the seizure was released a day after the Fars news agency, which is aligned with Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, published a video showing the moment the oil tanker was raided. The video shows masked officers rappelling from a helicopter onto the tanker. The tanker is now docked in an Iranian port “with Iran’s flag now hoisted atop,” reports Reuters.

Iran has described its actions as a retaliation for Britain’s assistance in seizing an Iranian tanker off the coast of Gibraltar earlier in the month. Britain says the vessel was smuggling oil into Syria in violation of sanctions. Javad Zarif, Iran’s foreign minister wrote a tweet in which he called on Britain to “cease being an accessory to #EconomicTerrorism of the US.”

As the British government tries to figure out its next steps, experts are warning there are no real easy answers considering the continuing tensions between Iran and the West. “We are going to be looking at a series of options,” junior defense minister Tobias Ellwood told Sky News. “We will be speaking with our colleagues, our international allies, to see what can actually be done.” Those words were seen as confirmation that British officials have yet to settle on a response.