Iran says it will release seven crew members of seized ship

Iran says it will release seven crew members of seized ship
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Iran will release seven of the 23 crew members of the seized British-flagged Stena Impero tanker, though no release date has been set, Iranian state television reported on Wednesday.

Reuters first reported that Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi had told the Iranian outlet that the seven released crew members would include Indian citizens and that they would be permitted to leave the tanker on humanitarian grounds.

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“We have no problem with the crew and the captain and the issue is violations that the vessel committed,” Mousavi said.

The Stena Impero, owned by a Swedish company but sailed by the United Kingdom, was detained on July 19 by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards in the Strait of Hormuz. It has 23 crew members of Indian, Russian, Latvian and Filipino nationality.

The Iranians cited marine violations when they seized the ship, which came two weeks after the U.K. had detained an Iranian tanker off the coast of Gibraltar. The British released the Iranian ship in August.

Stena Bulk, the Swedish owner of the vessel, said in a statement that the company is “very pleased that for seven crew members their ordeal may soon be over," though it is also cautious as it awaits official confirmation.

“We view this communication as a positive step on the way to the release of all the remaining crew, which has always been our primary concern and focus,” Erik Hanell, the company's president and chief executive, said in a statement.

The additional 16 crew members would stay onboard to safely operate the vessel, according to the company.

The incident is one of several seizures or interceptions in the past few months by Iranian forces of vessels they often accuse of smuggling fuel.

The actions have fueled already high tensions between Washington and Tehran, which began deteriorating last year when President TrumpDonald John TrumpMarine unit in Florida reportedly pushing to hold annual ball at Trump property Giuliani clashes with CNN's Cuomo, calls him a 'sellout' and the 'enemy' Giuliani says 'of course' he asked Ukraine to look into Biden seconds after denying it MORE withdrew the U.S. from the Obama-era nuclear pact, leading Iran to surpass the deal’s limits on its uranium enrichment.

The administration has since adopted a “maximum pressure” campaign against Tehran, slapping sanctions on Iran's oil industry, metals sector, foreign minister and supreme leader to force it back to the negotiating table.

The U.S. has also sought to build a Western coalition to counter what it calls Iranian aggression in the Strait of Hormuz, with several countries signing on including the U.K. and Australia.

Adding fuel to the fire, the Trump administration on Tuesday announced sanctions against the Iranian Space Agency.