By Anna Ringstrom
STOCKHOLM (Reuters) – Stena Impero, the British-flagged tanker detained by Iran on July 19, will be released soon, an Iranian maritime official said on Sunday, according to the semi-official Fars news agency.
The Stena Impero was detained by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards in the Strait of Hormuz waterway for alleged marine violations, two weeks after Britain seized an Iranian tanker off Gibraltar. That vessel was released in August.
“After the issuing of the ruling for the end of detention of the English tanker Stena Impero this vessel will soon, and after the passing of 65 days, begin its movement from the port of Bandar Abbas toward international waters,” said Allahmorad Afifipour, the head of the Ports and Maritime Organisation of Iran in Hormozgan Province.
The process for the tanker to exit Iranian waters has been started but the legal case against the ship is still open and the results of the case will be announced, Afifipour said.
He did not provide any additional information on when the tanker may be released.
The head of the Swedish firm that owns the vessel said on Sunday that the tanker may be released within hours.
Swedish public broadcaster SVT quoted Stena Bulk Chief Executive Erik Hanell as saying: “We have received information now this morning that it seems like they will release the ship Stena Impero within a few hours. So we understand that the political decision to release the ship has been taken.”
“We hope to be able to head out within a few hours, but we don’t want to anticipate events. We want to see that the ship sails out of Iranian territorial waters,” Hanell told SVT, adding that his information came from Iranian authorities.
Hanell did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Swedish radio reported that he was currently travelling to Iran, according to Stena Bulk spokespersons.
Stena Bulk spokesman Will Marks declined to confirm the company had been informed of a possible release on Sunday.
“The vessel is still being held and the negotiations are ongoing, and until we have official confirmation and the vessel is lifting up its anchor and sailing out of Iranian waters we can’t confirm anything else,” he told Reuters.
On Sept. 4, Iran released seven of the vessel’s 23 crew members. Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom said at the time that Sweden had been in daily contact with Iran at a high political level since the vessel was seized.
Britain called on Iran to release the ship and its remaining crew immediately.
“Iran’s illegal seizure of a ship inside an internationally recognised shipping lane is unacceptable and undermines international law,” a spokesperson for the British government said in an email.
(Reporting By Anna Ringstrom, additional reporting by Willian James in London and Babak Dehghanpisheh in Geneva, Writing by Raissa Kasolowsky,; Editing by Giles Elgood, Dale Hudson and David Evans)