STENA IMPERO FREE AFTER MUCH EFFORT
Through daily efforts from Stena Bulk and Northern Marine Management and repeated demands for release from both the Swedish and UK Foreign Offices, the Stena Impero was finally able to leave Bandar Abbas and Iran after 71 days.
After many turnabouts, the Stena Impero was finally able to weigh anchor and leave Bandar Abbas at 9.30 am on Friday, September 27. Three hours later, the tanker reached international waters and at 10.55 pm, local time, it arrived in Dubai, where relatives of the crew and staff from Stena Bulk and Northern Marine Management (NMM) were waiting.
”It’s a huge relief, especially for the crew, of course, who obviously were happy to get off the ship. They were shaken, but physically in good health. And they seem to have the situation under control, but this is of course something we follow up on for as long as it’s needed,” says Stena Bulk’s President & CEO Erik Hånell.
The vessel was also, under the circumstances, in good condition and got a new crew in Dubai.
EMERGENCY RESPONSE TEAM OPERATIONAL IN 15 MINUTES
71 days earlier, late in the afternoon of July 19, Stena Bulk got the first call from the Stena Impero stating that Iranian authorities had called up the UK-flagged vessel when it was in Omani territorial waters, sailing through the Strait of Hormuz. Ten minutes later, Iran’s Islamic Revolution Guard Corps came aboard, seized the ship and steered it north towards Iran.
”We immediately activated our Emergency Response Team within Stena Bulk and NMM. Already after 15-20 minutes we were operational and had our first discussion about how we should act towards the media and Iranian, Swedish and British authorities. We quickly established communication centres at Stena Bulk and NMM to receive information and try to reach a solution as quickly as possible. And not least to find out why it was seized,” says Erik Hånell.
THREE MINUTES OF CONTACT PER WEEK
But they didn’t get much information. Contact with the ship was broken ten minutes after the Revolutionary Guard Corps got on board. However, through the AIS transponder they could see that it anchored outside Iran’s largest port, Bandar Abbas.
”On July 21, we sent a request that they release the ship, or at least its non-essential personnel. Three to four days later they replied that we could talk to the ship’s Master for three minutes every Thursday and that the crew members were allowed to call their families ten minutes per day. Only then did we know that the crew was physically well, but on edge of course.”
DAILY EFFORTS FROM STENA BULK AND NMM
Daily, Stena Bulk continued their efforts to get the ship and its crew free and to be allowed to get on board. After we met with Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, who was visiting Sweden on August 4, we were able to establish regular contact with Iranian authorities at ambassador and foreign minister level, and one month later seven crew members were released.
”Since the ship was seized, this situation has taken a large portion of the day for me and a number of people at Stena Bulk and NMM. Throughout the process, there has also been great interest from Swedish authorities to help us in this situation. The UK Foreign Office and Department for Transport’s maritime division have also had legal contact with Iranian authorities,” says Erik Hånell, who wants to thank everyone that’s been engaged in the process.
Stena Bulk and Northern Marine would not act differently should a similar situation arise in the future.
”We’ve been transparent throughout the process and our professional staff has had as good control as you can possibly have over such a situation, and they’ve invested tremendous energy in constantly checking all boxes there are in order to move the process forward. Without our efforts and drive we wouldn’t be in this situation today,” says Erik Hånell.
“The professionalism of the Master and crew members onboard the Stena Impero is commendable. To demonstrate the resilience of ten weeks of captivity in such a positive way, as well as compliance with our core values in ship management under the difficult conditions, showcases leadership, teamwork and our culture of avoiding complacency. We very much thank all the crew members onboard and acknowledge that under such hardship it was an extremely difficult task,” says Philip Fullerton, Managing Director, NMM.
1 October, Ed. Note: Stena Bulk is still waiting for a formal accusation as to why the Stena Impero was seized.
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