Audio reveals confrontation between British navy and Iran over seized tanker

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By Linda Givetash and Alex Holmes and Jean-Nicholas Fievet and Reuters  with NBC News World News
Image: Stena Impero
British oil tanker Stena Impero   -   Copyright  Stena Bulk

LONDON — A dramatic audio recording has emerged of the moments before Iran's Revolutionary Guard seized a British oil tanker in the Strait of Hormuz on Friday.

It reveals the British navy appearing to warn Iranian forces against seizing the Stena Impero tanker, a move that inflamed tensions amid renewedhostility between Iran and the West.

The recording was released Sunday by maritime security risk firm Dryad Global. The U.K.'s Ministry of Defence confirmed its authenticity to NBC News.

"If you obey, you will be safe," a member of the Iranian navy is heard telling the British-flagged tanker while demanding it change course.

A British naval officer aboard the HMS Montrose, according to a call sign referred to in the audio, responds warning Iranian forces that impairing, obstructing or hampering the passage of its flagged vessel would be in violation of international law.

But Iran did seize the ship, claiming in a statement that the Stena Impero had violated international regulations.

On Saturday the country's Revolutionary Guard released video that shows masked commandos rappelling onto the seized oil tanker, according to Iranian state TV.

Britain has called the seizure a "hostile act" and rejected Tehran's claims that the vessel had been involved in an accident with a fishing boat.

Foreign Minister Jeremy Hunt said on Saturday that he spoke to his Iranian counterpart Javad Zarif and "expressed extreme disappointment" after having been previously assured that Iran was working toward de-escalating the situation in the Gulf.

The seizure "shows worrying signs Iran may be choosing a dangerous path of illegal and destabilising behaviour," Hunt said.

On Sunday Iran's Ambassador to the U.K. cautioned Britain to "contain those domestic political forces" who are escalating tensions between the two countries "beyond the issue of ships."

"This is quite dangerous and unwise at a sensitive time in the region," Hamid Baeidinejad said on Twitter.

Earlier this month British Royal Marines seized a tanker believed to be carrying Iranian oil in Gibraltar under accusations that it was bringing oil to Syria in violation of E.U. sanctions.

The Grace 1 tanker remains impounded in the British territory. Iran's Guardian Council described Friday's seizure of the British tanker as a "reciprocal action," according to FARS.

Tensions between Iran and the United States have also intensified in recent weeks.

Senior U.S. officials said that U.S. Marines jammed an Iranian dronein the Gulf of Hormuz on Thursday, bringing it down and destroying it.

A U.S. surveillance drone was also shot down last month by Iran's Revolutionary Guard. In the aftermath of the incident, President Donald Trump confirmed that he was "cocked and loaded" to strike Iranian targets but decided to call the strikes off, saying the loss of life would make it a disproportionate response.

Politics

U.S. officials had earlier accused Tehran of a "blatant assault" on two burning tankers in the Gulf of Oman in June. Iranian officials denied any involvement in the attack on the tankers.

U.S. Central Command said in a statement Friday that it is developing a "multinational maritime effort" called Operation Sentinel to increase surveillance and security in what it said were key waterways in the Middle East.

Trump himself said on the South Lawnthat U.S. officials will be working with the U.K. on the issue.

The president has withdrawn from 2015's landmark Iran nuclear agreement, imposed sanctions that squeezed the country's economy and designated the powerful Revolutionary Guard Corps as a foreign terrorist organization.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said in an interview with NBC Nightly News' Lester Holt on Monday that the door is "wide open" to diplomacy if Trump removes the array of sanctions he has imposed since 2017 that have slashed the country's oil exports and damaged its economy.

"Once those sanctions are lifted, then ... the room for negotiation is wide open," Zarif said during a visit to New York for a United Nations conference.

Zarif said he did not think the two countries were on the verge of war, saying neither his government nor Trump were seeking armed conflict.

"I do not believe that President Trump wants war. But I believe that people are around him who wouldn't mind," Zarif said.