France has said Iran must release two oil tankers seized in the Arabian Gulf last week, as tensions between Tehran and world powers mount.
The Greek-flagged vessels were captured by Iran over “violations”.
The seizure may have been a reaction to Greek authorities who, in coordination with the US, confiscated a Russian-flagged vessel for allegedly carrying Iranian oil in breach of sanctions. Athens said it would deliver the oil to Washington.
Iran captured the ships by landing gunmen on their decks from navy helicopters.
One of the ships seized in the Gulf, the Delta Poseidon, is a Suezmax capable of carrying more than one million barrels of crude.
France’s foreign ministry on Sunday condemned Iran’s capture of the ships as “a serious violation of international law”.
“We call on Iran to immediately release the crews and vessels,” it said in a statement.
“France reiterates its commitment to the rules of international law protecting the freedom of navigation and maritime safety. We call on Iran to immediately cease its actions that contravene these rules.”
After the tankers were confiscated on Friday, Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh tweeted the following day that the crews were “safe and in good health”.
He described ties between the two countries as having “always been based on mutual respect”, adding that they “must not be hampered by deeply short-sighted miscalculations, including highway robbery on the command of a third party”.
Iran's ports authority denied that the crews were arrested, according to a statement carried by the official news agency IRNA.
It added that they were being “protected … in accordance with international law. All the necessary services are being provided to them.”
Greece called the capture “tantamount to acts of piracy” and warned its citizens not to travel to Iran.
Nine Greek citizens are among the sailors on board, the country’s foreign ministry said, without specifying the nationality of their comrades.
Tensions between Tehran and world powers are soaring amid stalled nuclear talks.
Negotiations aimed at reviving the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action began last year but have yet to produce any solid agreement.
Brent crude on Monday climbed to around $120 a barrel — extending its gain this year to 54 per cent — as China eased Covid-19 lockdowns and the EU continued to work on a plan to ban imports of Russian oil over its invasion of Ukraine.
A nuclear deal may bring between 500,000 and one million barrels per day of Iranian crude back on to international markets, enough to weigh on prices. The JCPOA, which then president Donald Trump withdrew the US from in 2018, limited Tehran’s atomic activities in return for the easing of sanctions, including on oil exports.