Gibraltar Releases Iran Tanker Despite US Effort to Impound it
Gibraltar on Thursday allowed a detained Iranian supertanker to leave the British overseas territory despite a last-minute US attempt to impound the vessel.
The US Department of Justice had applied to seize the Grace 1 supertanker in Gibraltar, just hours before the Gibraltar government was poised to release it.
Gibraltar Chief Minister Fabian Picardo said the US was still on time to request a new legal procedure for seizing the Grace 1, but that provisions under the European Union's sanctions regulations were ending Thursday after the Iranian government assured him in writing that the ship will not send its 2.1 million barrels of crude to a sanctioned entity in Syria.
"This is an important material change in the destination of the vessel and the beneficiary of its cargo," Picardo said in a statement, adding that the move ensured that the Syrian regime of Bashar Assad would be deprived of more than $140 million of crude oil.
Gibraltar said it had "solid documentary evidence" that the vessel was bound for Syria when it was detained on July 4, but that the political fallout had prompted talks with Iranian officials in London.
Picardo's office released copies of communications with the Syrian Embassy in the UK shortly after the British overseas territory's Supreme Court decision to release the tanker.
Britain's Foreign Office has warned Iran to abide by the assurances it provided to the government of Gibraltar that led to the release of the tanker.
UK authorities insisted they would not allow Iran or anyone else to bypass European Union sanctions meant to punish Syria for using chemical weapons against its own people.
But the UK also insisted that there should be "no comparison or linkage" between the enforcement of sanctions and "Iran's unacceptable and illegal seizure of, and attacks on, commercial shipping vessels in the Strait of Hormuz."
Reacting to the developments, Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif accused the US of trying to "steal our property on the high seas," calling the Trump administration's moves a "piracy attempt."
The commandeering of the Grace 1 on July 4 exacerbated frictions between Tehran and the West and led to retaliatory moves in Gulf waterways used to ship oil.
Britain accused the vessel of violating European sanctions by taking oil to Syria, a charge Tehran denies.
Tehran has denied the vessel was doing anything improper and in retaliation Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps troops seized the British-flagged Stena Impero tanker in the Strait of Hormuz on July 19 for alleged marine violations.
The Gulf tanker crisis has added to worsening hostilities since Washington pulled out of Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with six powers, under which Tehran agreed to curb its nuclear work in return for lifting most international sanctions on Tehran.
The Iranian capture of the Stena Impero drew condemnation from Britain and other European parties to the nuclear deal that have been trying to salvage it by shielding Iran’s economy from reimposed and toughened US sanctions.
Unlike the seized Iranian tanker, which was carrying a cargo of up to 2.1 million barrels of oil, the Stena Impero was on its way to the Gulf and empty at the time it was seized by Iranian forces.
Millions of barrels of oil pass daily through the various bottlenecks from Middle East oil producers to markets across the globe.