Denmark has joined France and Italy in backing a European-led mission to protect ships in the Strait of Hormuz after Britain put forward the idea following the seizure of a UK-flagged oil tanker.
Iran has threatened to disrupt shipping through the strait – through which a fifth of the world’s oil passes each day – as it attempts to pressure European powers to find a way around American sanctions.
It comes after US calls to NATO allies to form an international coalition to protect shipping in the area largely fell on deaf ears.
Jeppe Kofod, Denmark’s foreign minister, said the country ‘looks positively’ on the mission after it was also backed by France and Italy. Denmark is one of the world’s foremost seafaring nations and is hosts its largest shipping company – A.P. Moller-Maersk – which sails in the Strait
Britain launched the idea of a European-led mission in the Strait after Iranian forces seized the UK-flagged Stena Impero in the Gulf last week
‘The Danish government looks positively towards a possible contribution to such initiative,’ Foreign Minister Jeppe Kofod said in a statement. ‘The initiative will have a strong European footprint’.
The backing contrasts with a lukewarm response shown by European allies to a similar American call first voiced at NATO in late June, which was resisted by France and Germany.
They worried the U.S.-led military alliance would be dragged into a possible confrontation with Iran.
EU-member Denmark is among the world’s biggest seafaring nations and home to the world’s biggest container shipping firm A.P. Moller-Maersk, which sails in the high-tension area.
‘The Royal Danish Navy is strong and capable and would be able to contribute actively and effectively to this type of engagement,’ said Danish Defence Minister Trine Bramsen.
A final decision would still need to be discussed in parliament.
Elsewhere on Friday, Iran freed nine Indian crew members from a Panama-flagged tanker seized on July 14, India’s foreign ministry said on Friday.
The MT Riah had been accused of smuggling contraband fuel when it was detained by Iran, amid mounting tensions between the Iranian government and Britain and the United States over shipping in the Strait of Hormuz.
12 Indian crew members were on board the ship when it was seized south of Iran’s Larak Island.
The release leaves 21 other Indians in Iranian detention, including three others from the MT Riah and 18 from the British-flagged Stena Impero, which was captured by Iranian forces last week.
Iran’s Revolutionary Guard claimed that the MT Riah was smuggling one million litres of fuel.
They said in a statement: ‘A foreign vessel smuggling one million litres of fuel in the Lark Island of the Persian Gulf has been seized.’
Iran’s Revolutionary Guard seized the ship and claimed that the MT Riah was smuggling one million litres of fuel
12 Indian crew members were on board the ship when it was seized south of Iran’s Larak Island
MT Riah disappeared off trackers in Iranian territorial waters on July 14.
The vessel vanished when its transponder was switched off in the Strait of Hormuz.
The Stena Impero and its 23 crew have been impounded at the southern port of Bandar Abbas for allegedly breaking ‘international maritime rules’. The vessel is at the heart of the showdown between Iran and Britain.
Apart from the 18 Indians, there are three Russians, a Latvian and a Filipino on the ship.
India announced on Thursday that its diplomats in Iran had been given access to Stena Impero crew.
‘All 18 Indian crew members on board are safe and doing fine. Will continue to push for their early release,’ junior foreign minister V Muraleedharan said on Twitter.
Images from inside the ship released by Iran on Monday showed some Indian crew sat around a table, chatting and smiling. Two members could be seen cooking in the ship’s kitchen.
Iran has hinted it is open to swapping the Stena Impero for an Iranian vessel, Grace 1, that was detained in Gibraltar allegedly carrying Iranian oil to Syria in breach of international sanctions.
The release of the prisoners comes as it was revealed yesterday that the Stena Impero made a sudden U-turn towards Iran and then went ‘dark’ before its radio transmitter was switched off.
Iran’s Revolutionary Guard boarded the Stena Impero as it passed through the Strait of Hormuz on Friday.
Data from its AIS, or Automatic Identification System, showed the vessel – which was empty at the time – moving on its scheduled course to Saudi Arabia before being intercepted.
The red arrow shows the Stena Impero suddenly turn away from its course as it passed through the Strait of Hormuz on Friday
The British-flagged vessel then suddenly moved towards Iran. It is thought this was as the crew tried to evade Iran’s Revolutionary Guard forces
The British-flagged tanker was tracked before it suddenly made a U-turn towards Iran, then seemed to vanish from the radar around an hour later.
It is thought the satellite images show the ship moments before it was boarded by Iranian forces before it then disappeared.
The Impero can be seen trying to evade helicopters full of The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) commandos as it sharply manoeuvred towards the Qesham islands.
AIS tracking systems were then switched off and the ship did not reappear on satellite imagery.
TankerTrackers.com, an independent online service that monitors and reports shipments and storage of crude oil, relies on MarineTraffic’s data, published footage detailing the ship’s last-known movements before its capture.
Samir Madani, who runs the site, said the vessel’s beacon was probably switched off by the boarders of the boat – a common practice among Iranian crews when crossing into the Islamic Republic’s waters.
He told Wired: ‘They tried to evade by making a U-turn onto eastbound lanes [of the strait].
‘And at that point, when they entered Iranian waters, they approached the Qesham islands, their AIS transponder was switched off.
‘It’s the rule rather than the exception – they switch it off when they’re visiting Iran, and they switch it [AIS] off during transit.’
Other shipping vessels passing through the Strait, which is one of the world’s busiest, can also been seen in the satellite images.
In the 24 hours around the time of Iran’s capture of the vessel, 441 distinct ships passed through the Strait, according to MarineTraffic that provides real-time information on ship movements.
The Stena Impero carried on its trajectory towards the Qesham islands before its tracking device was switched off around an hour after it diverted from its intended course
The day after the ship was seized separate satellite images picked up the Stena Impero outside the nearby navy port in Bandar Abbas on the Persian Gulf
A broadcast by Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) on Monday showed the crew of the British tanker after it was seized by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps
The day after the Impero was seized a different satellite system was used to track where the vessel was taken.
Using Planet Labs, TankerTrackers.com was able to trace the ship to the nearby navy port in Bandar Abbas on the Persian Gulf where it was being held.
Stena Bulk, the owner of the ship, said it made first contact yesterday evening with the crew of 23 since its seizure five days ago.
The company said the ship’s master advised ‘that everyone was safe with good cooperation with the Iranian personnel onboard’.
The crew are mostly Indian, but also include Filipino, Russian and Latvian nationals. Iranian state TV aired video of the crew onboard the vessel off Iran’s port of Bandar Abbas earlier this week and said they were ‘safe’.
Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani suggested today that Iran might release the UK-flagged ship if Britain takes similar steps to release an Iranian oil tanker seized by the British Royal Navy off Gibraltar earlier this month.
A member of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards on board the tanker broadcast on Iran state TV
Iranian Revolutionary Guards in speedboats patrolling the Stena Impero as it is anchored off the Iranian port city of Bandar Abbas after being seized
President Hassan Rouhani suggested Iran might release the ship if Britain takes similar steps to release an Iranian oil tanker seized by the British Royal Navy off Gibraltar earlier this month
His remarks could create an opening to reduce tensions as Boris Johnson becomes prime minister. It’s unclear how the new government will respond to Rouhani’s suggestion or the impasse with Iran.
A spate of incidents in past weeks has threatened security in the Strait of Hormuz, which lies between Iran and Oman.
Tensions have also soared following President Donald Trump’s decision last year to withdraw from the nuclear deal and impose maximal sanctions on Iran.
In past weeks, Iran has shot down a US spy drone, American officials say military cyberforces struck Iranian computer systems that handle missile and rocket launchers, and six oil tankers have been sabotaged near the strait.
Iranian officials on Wednesday reiterated their denial that any Iranian drones were intercepted, after the US military said on Tuesday that it took aim at two of the craft last week.
The Strait is governed by the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea and provides the only sea passage from the Persian Gulf to the open ocean.
One-fifth of globally traded crude passes through the Strait of Hormuz, making it an internationally important point for world energy supplies from Gulf exporters.