The Latest: Germany says plans for sea force at early stage

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — The Latest on tensions in the Persian Gulf (all times local):

4:20 p.m.

Germany says plans for a Europe-led mission to safeguard shipping in the Strait of Hormuz are at an early stage and it is too early to say how Berlin might contribute.

British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt this week announced plans to develop and deploy a “maritime protection mission” but gave few details. Britain, France and Germany have remained parties to the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran and aren’t joining the U.S. campaign of “maximum pressure” on Tehran.

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German Foreign Ministry spokesman Christofer Burger said Wednesday that Britain and France have a “traditional naval presence in the Gulf” and their ideas for a European-led mission build on that.

Burger said that Germany is in talks with them but “the conceptual deliberations are still at the beginning.” He said it’s too early to discuss “possible forms of German support or participation” but the talks haven’t yet featured calls for German military contributions.

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3:35 p.m.

The owner of the U.K.-flagged ship held by Iran says it has made first contact with the crew of 23 since its seizure five days ago in the Strait of Hormuz.

Stena Bulk says in a statement Wednesday it had direct communication with the crew of the Stena Impero on Tuesday evening. The ship’s master said “that everyone was safe with good cooperation with the Iranian personnel onboard.”

The crew are mostly Indian, but also include Filipino, Russian and Latvian nationals. Iranian state TV aired video of the crew onboard the vessel off Iran’s port of Bandar Abbas earlier this week.

Stena Bulk’s CEO Erik Hanell says the company appreciates this as “a first sign that we will soon see more positive progress from the Iranian authorities.”

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2:50 p.m.

President Hassan Rouhani suggested Iran might release a U.K.-flagged ship if Britain takes similar steps to release an Iranian oil tanker seized off Gibraltar earlier this month.

Speaking Wednesday during a regular Cabinet meeting, Rouhani said if Britain reverses its “wrong actions, including what they did in Gibraltar,” then “they will receive a proper response from Iran.”

Rouhani added that while Iran does not seek a military conflict, it will not allow threats to its security in the Persian Gulf and Strait of Hormuz. He described as “professional and brave” Friday’s seizure by Iranian paramilitary forces of the U.K.-flagged ship in the strait.

Both sides have called the interception of one another’s ships “hostile acts” and “piracy”.

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12:15 p.m.

Iran has again denied that any of its drones were intercepted after the U.S. military said it took aim at two of them last week.

U.S. Central Command said Tuesday that one Iranian drone crashed into the sea after the USS Boxer took what Central Command called “defensive action” against it last Thursday. It said the Boxer also “engaged” a second Iranian drone at the same time, but could not confirm it was destroyed.

Iran’s defense minister, Gen. Amir Hatami, told reporters Wednesday that “if someone claims he should provide evidence,” adding that “none of our drones have been intercepted.”

He says that when Iran shot down a U.S. drone last month it shared images of the wreckage to verify it.

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11:20 a.m.

A large British-flagged vessel has transited the Strait of Hormuz in the first such passage made by a British ship since Iran seized a U.K.-flagged tanker last week.

Maritime publication Lloyd’s List identified the vessel as BW Elm and reported that British warship HMS Montrose closely shadowed the vessel but did not provide a direct escort. The Royal Navy could not immediately be reached for comment.

Data on tracking site Marine Traffic showed the commercial ship arrived at a port in Qatar early Wednesday after transiting the strait.

In a statement to the AP, the ship’s owner BW LPG declined to comment on specifics, but said the company “is grateful for the U.K. and international community for their naval presence” providing security to ships in the area.

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