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UK: Foreign secretary accuses Iran of 'state piracy'

British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt in London, UK on 6 June 2014 [NHS Confederation/Flickr]
British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt in London, UK on 6 June 2014 [NHS Confederation/Flickr]

Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt on Monday accused Iran of state piracy for illegally detaining a British ship in the Persian Gulf, urging it to release the vessel and its crew immediately, reports Anadolu Agency.

Hunt argued that Iran had breached international law as well as the freedom of navigation by blocking the Stena Impero's access to the Strait of Hormuz and illegally boarding and detaining the vessel and its crews.

"Let us be absolutely clear, under international law Iran had no right to obstruct the ship's passage, let alone board her, it was, therefore, an act of state piracy in which the House will have no hesitation in condemning," Hunt said in a statement to the House of Commons.

"Even more worryingly, this incident was a flagrant breach of the principle of free navigation on which the global trading system and world economy ultimately depend. I, therefore, urge Iran to release the Stena Impero and her crew and observe the rules that safeguard commercial shipping and benefit Iran as much as any other country," he added.

Hunt said that Iran has presented the situation as a "tit-for-tat" incident following the detaining of the Grace 1 Iranian oil tanker by the royal navy in Gibraltar. However, he said, unlike the Stena Impero, the Grace 1 had breached EU sanctions by transporting oil to Syria and thus the government of Gibraltar was implementing EU law.

READ: Oman urges Iran to release British oil tanker

Hunt said as the British oil tanker was in Omani territorial waters and abiding by international maritime law, there could be no comparison between Iran's illegal seizure of a vessel inside international shipping lanes and the enforcement of EU sanctions against an Iranian tanker inside the waters of Gibraltar, a British overseas territory.

Hunt said that since the July 4 detention of the Grace 1, the UK government has made strenuous efforts to resolve the tanker crisis, including speaking to the Iranian Foreign Ministry on July 13 to ensure its release if there were guarantees it would abide by EU law and not transport oil to entities listed on EU sanctions.

"Instead of responding constructively, Iran chose to seize the Stena Impero, so we must now take the appropriate action to support the safe passage of vessels through the Strait of Hormuz," Hunt added.

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