Iran has freed nine of 12 Indian crew members of MT Riah, a Panama-flagged tanker it seized this month as part of a growing diplomatic crisis in the Middle East, the Indian foreign ministry said on Saturday.

The MT Riah was detained by the Iranian coastguard on 13 July, with 12 Indian crew members on board, the Indian foreign ministry said, and appealed for the release of the remaining crew. No reason has been provided as to why the three are being held.

“Nine crew members have been released and they will be on their way to India soon,” foreign ministry spokesman Raveesh Kumar said. “Our mission in Iran has requested the release of remaining crew members from the Iranian authorities concerned.”

Dozens of Indian sailors on ships in the Gulf have been caught up in rising tensions between Iran and the west.

Iranian state TV aired footage of the vessel a few days after it was seized, saying it had been detained by Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards for smuggling fuel.

Indian and Iranian authorities said this week Iran had granted India consular access to 18 Indian crew seized on another ship, the British-flagged Stena Impero, that Iran seized in the Strait of Hormuz on 19 July.

The seizure of the British tanker in the world’s most important waterway for the oil trade has deepened a crisis between Iran and the west that was triggered in May when the US tightened sanctions, in effect barring all countries from buying Iranian oil.

Iran said it had seized the Stena Impero because it had collided with a fishing boat.

India’s junior foreign minister, V Muraleedharan, said India was pushing for the release of the Indian crew on the British vessel.

India has had longstanding political and energy ties with Iran, but it has cut all its oil supplies because of US sanctions.


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