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Finnish Foreign Minister: Safe maritime passage must be preserved in Middle East

Finland's Pekka Haavisto says recent activity in the Strait of Hormuz threatens world trade and resembles piracy.

Pekka Haavisto
Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto Image: Roni Rekomaa / Lehtikuva

Finnish Foreign Minister Pekka Haavisto says recent interference with safe passage in and around the Strait of Hormuz should be globally condemned.

"It is extremely concerning when one of the world's most important sea routes is exposed to activity akin to piracy," he said.

The minister's comments refer to the seizure of the Stena Impero oil tanker, sailing under a British flag, which was boarded and captured by Iranian forces on 19 July.

It was later revealed that the tanker was seized by Iran's Revolutionary Guards in retaliation for the British seizure of an Iranian tanker, intercepted on 4 July in Gibraltar on suspicion of smuggling oil to Syria in breach of European Union sanctions.

British authorities claim a second tanker was also seized on Friday. Iran said the vessel was boarded because it was involved in an accident, an explanation Britain rejected.

In an earlier incident in mid-June, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also accused Iran of being behind attacks on two other oil tankers in the strait. Iran denied the accusations.

"Diplomacy is needed"

Haavisto said that it is in the best interests of countries like Finland who are dependent on world trade to defend the freedom to navigate and condemn attacks on ships. He said the incidents were clearly meant to attract attention, obstruct shipping in the waters off Iran and make maritime traffic unsafe.

The Finnish foreign minister said that the most important thing at the moment is to secure the safety of the crew on the captured vessel and proceed along diplomatic channels.

"This is also the position of the British foreign office," Haavisto said.

Haavisto pointed out that the European Union has been in support of a constructive and peaceful policy with regard to Iran. He considers it unfortunate that the US abandoned a 2015 nuclear deal between world powers and Iran, which had been negotiated for 12 years.

"But Iran has now started to pose a threat and exceed the agreed-upon uranium limits, which is even worse," he said.

"EU must stand united"

Britain has told its ships to avoid entering the strait for the time being, and France and Germany have joined Britain in condemning Iran's activity.

A third of the world’s liquefied natural gas and almost 20 percent of total global oil consumption passes through the strait between Iran and the Arabian peninsula, making it a highly important strategic location for international trade.

"If maritime traffic in the Strait of Hormuz is hampered and vessels begin to seek out alternative routes, it will greatly impact not only Iran but also the other countries in the region. The EU must stand united behind the principle that freedom of navigation in the Strait of Hormuz is preserved, and that no ships from EU member states or any other country fall victim to these kinds of attacks," Haavisto said.

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