Iran Captures British-Flagged Oil Tanker in Strait of Hormuz

Second tanker reportedly confronted, warned to leave area

Tensions are mounting in the Persian Gulf Friday after Iran’s Revolutionary Guards captured a British-flagged oil tanker, the Stena Impero, as it entered the Strait of Hormuz. The tanker was captured with 23 people on board.

This follows a recent incident in which British Marines captured the Iranian oil tanker Grace 1 as it tried to pass through the Strait of Gibraltar, and towed it into Gibraltar, where it remains detained. This sort of tit-for-tat detention is likely intended to set the stage for a trade.

Britain accused the Grace 1 of carrying Iranian oil to Syria, in violation of EU measures forbidding Syria from getting oil. Iran has accused the Stena Impero of turning off its tracker and ignoring several warnings to turn it back on in the crowded Strait of Hormuz. The Stena Impero did not have any oil on board, and was en route to Saudi Arabia at the time.

Strangely, for parts of Friday afternoon, a second British tanker, the Liberian-flagged Mesdar, was also claimed to have been “captured” by Iran. This turned out not to be the case, however, and exactly what happened is a matter of some dispute.

The ship’s British owner, the Norbulk Shipping UK, claims the Mesdar was captured the the Revolutionary Guards but subsequently released. Iranian media, however, say the Mesday was never captured in the first place, and was simply warned about “safety issues” in the area, and advised to leave, which it did.

Beyond Britain and US officials claiming Iran captured two tankers, the immediate reaction was Gibraltar announcing that they are going to extend the detention of Iran’s Grace 1 tanker. While this likely is just buying time for negotiating an exchange of held ships, it is at present being presented as a distinct move related to mounting tensions with Iran.

Author: Jason Ditz

Jason Ditz is senior editor of