Iran has released 9 out of 12 India crew members, it had held after seizing a Panama-flagged tanker that it claimed was smuggling Iranian oil, the Indian Foreign Ministry said on Friday.
There was a total of 30 Indians among the crew members of the two tankers seized by Iranian authorities on two separate occasions this month, 12 on the MT Riah and 18 on the Stena Impero. The release of the nine sailors from the MT Riah, which was announced by the Indian government on Friday, drops the number to 21.
Raveesh Kumar, a spokesman for the Indian Ministry of External Affairs, said the Riah and its 12 Indian crew members were detained by the Iranian Coast Guard on July 13. “Nine crew members have been released, and they will be on their way to India soon,” he said.
“Our mission in Iran has requested the concerned Iranian authorities for the release of remaining crew members,” Kumar said.
Iranian state media said Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) forces ambushed the tanker on July 14. The IRGC said it had initially responded to distress calls from a ship but when they searched it, they discovered it was a fuel smuggling operation, so they seized the tanker, which had 12 people on board.
The seizure of the British-flagged tanker last week was widely seen as retaliation by Tehran for the extension of the detention of an Iranian oil tanker Grace 1 in Gibraltar (a UK Overseas Territory). The latter had been seized in Gibraltar waters on suspicion of violating EU sanctions barring the trade of oil with Syria.
Iran has hinted it is open to swapping the Stena Impero for an Iranian tanker, Grace 1, detained in Gibraltar on July 4 allegedly carrying Iranian oil to Syria in breach of international sanctions.