Release detained crew: India to UK, Iran
India said on Thursday that it has taken up with the UK and Iran the issue of the early release and repatriation of 45 Indian crew members of three merchant vessels seized by the two countries against the backdrop of increased tensions in the Persian Gulf.
There are 24 Indians in the crew of the Iranian tanker Grace 1, which was boarded by British marines off Gibraltar on July 4. British authorities detained the tanker on the suspicion that it was carrying oil to a refinery in Syria in contravention of European Union sanctions.
In a tit-for-tat action, Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) “confiscated” the British-flagged tanker Stena Impero, which has 18 Indians in its crew. There were another 12 Indians in the crew of the Panama-flagged MT Riah, which was seized by Iranian authorities in the Strait of Hormuz on July 14.
People familiar with developments said nine of the crew members of MT Riah have been released as of Thursday and that India is making preparations for their repatriation. Efforts are underway for freeing the other three, including the captain of the vessel, the people said.
The UK granted consular access to the 24 crew members of Grace 1 held in Gibraltar on Wednesday and a team from the Indian high commission in London met them.
“What we saw was the crew members were very calm, very composed. There was no sense of panic, they were doing fine,” external affairs ministry spokesperson Raveesh Kumar told a regular news briefing on Thursday.
“They have been in regular touch with their family members. We assured them that the government of India would take all necessary steps to ensure their early release and repatriation.”
India, Kumar said, has also requested the early release and repatriation of the 18 Indians crew members of the Stena Impero. “We have sought access, we hope that the access will be granted very soon,” he said.
“We continue to impress upon the Iranian authorities to release them so that we can begin the process of repatriation.”
The Indian government is keeping a close eye on the increased tensions in the Persian Gulf as the situation could have wide-ranging ramifications for the Indian crew members of the numerous merchant vessels that pass through these waters. Last month, the Director General of Shipping urged Indian-flagged vessels to take precautions while passing through the Strait of Hormuz and the Gulf of Oman.
Following attacks on tankers last month that the US blamed on Iran, the Indian Navy deployed two warships and surveillance aircraft to escort Indian-flagged vessels in the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman.