Iran’s Tanker Seizure Sparks Questions Over Owners and Flags

Stena Impero, a British-flagged vessel owned by Stena Bulk, is seen at Bandar Abbas port, July 21, 2019. Picture taken July 21, 2019.  Iran, Mizan News Agency/WANA Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY.

Escalating tensions in the Middle East’s biggest shipping chokepoint is raising speculation over who is responsible for tankers ensnared in the hostilities.

The latest ship that’s been thrust into the spotlight is oil tanker Stena Impero, seized on Friday by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards in the Strait of Hormuz. While the 49,683 deadweight-ton vessel is U.K. registered and flagged, its owned by Sweden’s Stena AB. U.S. President Donald Trump has called on nations to protect their carriers as they travel the waterway.

The company’s shipping unit, Stena Bulk, on Friday modified its website to a single page that provided a statement about the tanker seized by Iran. At about 4 p.m. London time, the ship was “approached by unidentified small crafts and a helicopter during transit of the Strait of Hormuz while the vessel was in international waters” it said.

The company and the vessel manager, U.K.-based Northern Marine — which provides ship management services to parent Stena AB — were unable to contact the vessel, it said. None of the 23 seafarers aboard are British.

Stena Bulk, with 440 employees, operates 79 oil tankers, 3 liquefied natural gas vessels and 6 shuttle ships that typically ferry supplies from offshore fields. It accounts for 12% of its parent’s revenues, according to Stena AB’s website.

The U.K. unit, Northern Marine Group, is based in Glasgow in Scotland, and provides ship management services to the parent company, with offices across the globe from Houston to Mumbai and Singapore.

Apart from shipping, family-owned Stena AB has businesses including real estate, wind power and offshore drilling. Its roots stretch back to 1939 when the Sten A Olsson Metallprodukter trading company was founded, according to its website.

Founder Sten Olsson bought his first vessel — a three-masted schooner with sails and engines — in 1946, and the company’s shipping business was born. Stena Bulk was formed in 1982, followed by Northern Marine a year later.

Armed guards boarded another ship, Mesdar, in the Gulf on Friday, before leaving and letting the vessel continue its voyage. The vessel is managed by U.K.-based Norbulk Shipping, though owned by Algeria’s state-owned Sonatrach Group and carries a Liberian flag.

[bloomberg]

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