Four Keralites onboard tanker held by Iran, Pinarayi Vijayan writes to Centre

Stena Impero, a British-flagged vessel owned by Stena Bulk, is seen at Bander Abass port, in this undated handout photo. Photo: Tasnim News Agency/Handout via REUTERS

Kochi/London: Four Keralites are among the 23 crew members of the British-flagged tanker 'Stena Impero' seized by Iran in Omani waters on Friday.

According to Manorama News, Stena Bulk, the Sweden-based owners of the tanker, contacted the family of Dijo Pappachan who hails from Kalamassery, Kochi, and informed that he was onboard the tanker.

Reports also claim that the captain of the vessel is also a Keralite, a native of Fort Kochi. Another person from Thrippunithura, Kochi, is also among the crew members.

Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan Sunday urged the Centre to take all possible efforts to secure the release of Indian nationals including four Keralites on board a British-flagged oil tanker seized by the Gulf country in the Strait of Hormuz.

In a letter to External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar, he asked the ministry to share the details of the persons aboard the ship so that their families could be helped.

"I request that all possible efforts to ensure the safety of the crew be made and the relevant details of persons may be shared with the state government so that their family members can be contacted and we can be of help in their hour of crisis," Vijayan said in the letter, the copy of which was released to the media here.

Congress MP Hibi Eden, representing Ernakulam constituency, also sought urgent intervention of the Central government for release of the Indian nationals.

Eden visited the family of Dijo Pappachan, a crew member on board the seized tanker, here.

Family of Pappachan hailing from Kalamassery here said the tanker owners have informed them that Dijo was onboard the seized oil tanker.

Asked about the reports that two more people from Ernakulam district were among the crew, Eden said there was no official information so far.

Minister of State for External Affairs V Muraleedharan had said on Saturday diplomatic efforts were on to secure the release of Indian nationals on board the tanker.

"We are waiting for response from Iranian authorities," Muraleedharan had told reporters in Kuthiran in Thrissur district Saturday evening.

Iran said on Sunday that all 23 crew members of the seized tanker were "safe and in good health."

A helicopter hovers over British-flagged tanker Stena Impero near the strait of Hormuz on Friday. Photo: Pool via WANA/Reuters TV via REUTRS.

"All the 23 crew members are aboard the ship are safe and in good health in Bandar Abbas port," Allahmorad Afifipour, the head of the Ports and Maritime Organisation of Iran in Hormozgan Province told state TV on Sunday.

Britain has denounced Iran's seizure of the oil tanker in the Gulf on Friday as a "hostile act", rejecting Tehran's explanation that it had seized the vessel because it had been involved in an accident.

The vessel, carrying no cargo, was taken to the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas. It will remain there with its crew - 18 of them Indians - while the accident is investigated, Iranian news agencies quoted Afifipour as saying.

The oil tanker was impounded off Bandar Abbas port hours after a court in the British overseas territory of Gibraltar said it would extend by 30 days the detention of Iranian tanker 'Grace 1' seized by British authorities in the Mediterranean two weeks ago on allegations of breaching EU sanctions against Syria.

"They see this as a tit-for-tat situation," British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said following talks with his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif and a meeting of the UK's emergency response committee.

In a letter to the UN Security Council, Britain said the tanker was approached by Iranian forces when it was in Omani territorial waters exercising its lawful right of passage, and the action "constitutes illegal interference."

Another oil tanker, the Mesdar, was also boarded by Iranian personnel on Friday and temporarily forced to divert toward Iran, but later was allowed to continue on its route through the Strait. On Saturday Algeria's APS news agency said the Mesdar was owned by Algeria's state oil company Sonatrach.

The rest of the crew members on 'Stena Impero' include three Russians, one Latvian and one Filipino.

The IRGC released footage allegedly showing the capture operation. Filmed from a ship and a helicopter, it shows small craft sailing alongside the ship, troops in balaclavas inside a chopper, and six people descending down a rope onto the vessel.

France, Germany and the European Union joined Britain in condemning the seizure.

India had said Saturday that it was in touch with Iran to secure release of the Indians on board the British-flagged oil tanker seized by the Gulf country in the Strait of Hormuz.

"We are ascertaining further details on the incident. Our Mission is in touch with the Government of Iran to secure the early release and repatriation of Indian nationals," External Affairs Ministry Spokesperson Raveesh Kumar had said in response to a question on the detention of Indian crew members along with the oil tanker Stena Impero by Iranian authorities.