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story.lead_photo.caption The British-flagged tanker Stena Impero sails out of Bandar Abbas, Iran, and into international waters in this image taken Friday from a British Royal Navy helicopter patrolling in the Persian Gulf.

The British-flagged oil tanker that was seized by Iran two months ago left port with its crew, sailed into international waters in the Strait of Hormuz and headed for Dubai on Friday, bringing an end to at least one source of contention between Iran and the West.

Stena Bulk, the operator of the ship, and Iran's state-run Islamic Republic News Agency both confirmed that the tanker, the Stena Impero, had left Bandar Abbas on Friday morning. Data from websites that track shipping showed the vessel moving a few miles offshore and pausing there for a few hours, before heading south to the strait's shipping lanes.

The ship and its crew were caught up in the broader dispute between Iran and the West that included the seizure of an Iranian tanker by British forces near Gibraltar in July. Officials said the vessel was carrying oil to Syria, in defiance of European Union sanctions against Syria.

Iran impounded the Stena Impero on July 19, apparently in retaliation for the British seizure -- but also, analysts said, as part of a campaign to demonstrate that it can disrupt traffic through the vital strait. About one-fifth of the world's oil supply passes through the waterway.

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The authorities in Gibraltar, a British territory, released the Iranian vessel last month, despite pressure from the United States, raising hopes for a quick, reciprocal release of the Stena Impero.

The Stena Impero's owners were told that the vessel was free to go on Monday, suggesting an imminent resolution of the matter. But it remained in port after an Iranian official said that although a detention order had been lifted, it could not leave the country until an inquiry into the ship's conduct was completed.

"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," Erik Hanell, the president of Stena Bulk, said in a statement on Friday. Hanell added that all of the crew members, whose names were not released, were in "high spirits" following their release after 10 weeks of detention on the ship.

Iran had accused the Stena Impero, which was on track to reach Dubai around midnight, of violating maritime regulations in the Strait of Hormuz. The state-run PressTV in Iran said that the tanker was seized after it ignored distress calls after colliding with a fishing boat, and Iran's Revolutionary Guard said the ship had taken a wrong route when entering the strait.

As far as Iran is concerned, the case remains open and the investigation will continue, with a final report to come later, the Islamic Republic News Agency reported, but it was unclear what significance that holds if the ship is no longer in Iranian waters.

After the ship got underway on Friday, Britain's foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, said that its seizure had been unlawful.

"It is part of a pattern of attempts to disrupt freedom of navigation," he said. "We are working with our international partners to protect shipping and uphold the international rule."

A Section on 09/28/2019

Print Headline: British-flagged tanker leaves Iran


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