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British-flagged tanker Stena Impero leaves Iran after being seized in July

Stena Bulk/PA Wire

By Sam Blewett, PA Political Correspondent

A British-flagged oil tanker held by Iran for more than two months has been released by Tehran.

The Stena Impero was seized by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps in the Strait of Hormuz on July 19, accused of violating international maritime law.

But on Friday morning the vessel and its crew were heading for freedom after leaving the port of Bandar Abbas, on the southern coast of Iran.

The Foreign Office and the ship's Swedish owner, Stena Bulk, both welcomed the development, which comes amid heightened tensions between Iran and the west.

Stena Bulk said the crew were heading to Dubai for medical checks.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said: "The Stena Impero was unlawfully seized by Iran. It is part of a pattern of attempts to disrupt freedom of navigation.

"We are working with our international partners to protect shipping and uphold the international rule of law."

Erik Hanell, Stena Bulk's president and chief executive, confirmed the tanker and its crew had been released on Friday morning.

"The vessel has left the port of Bandar Abbas and is transiting to Dubai for the crew to disembark and receive medical checks and debriefing," Mr Hanell said.

"The families of crew members have been informed and the company is currently making arrangements for the repatriation of its valued seafarers at the earliest possible opportunity."

On Monday, Iranian government spokesman Ali Rabiei told journalists that legal proceedings against the Stena Impero had ended.

"Based on a friendly approach that allows forgiving mistakes, ground for freedom of the tanker has been paved and it can move," Mr Rabiei said.

The seizure came two weeks after Royal Marines were involved in an operation to seize a supertanker off Gibraltar.

The Iranian tanker, carrying £104 million worth of crude oil, was seized on suspicion of it breaking European Union sanctions on Syria.

Gibraltar later released the tanker, then called the Grace 1, after it said Iran had promised the ship would not go to Syria.

The ship seizures came after months of heightened tensions in the Persian Gulf, sparked by US President Donald Trump's decision to withdraw from Iran's nuclear deal last year.

Iran has since begun breaking the terms of the deal, which Prime Minister Boris Johnson described as "bad" in a change of UK policy, and called for a new accord to be brokered.