Sunday, 22 September, 2019


Gibraltar releases seized Iranian tanker despite U.S. attempts to block

Crew members of Iranian supertanker Grace 1 walk on board off the coast of Gibraltar Crew members of Iranian supertanker Grace 1 walk on board off the coast of Gibraltar
Bennie Garza | 16 August, 2019, 22:46

A small boat sails past Iranian oil tanker Grace 1 as it sits anchored after it was seized in July by British Royal Marines off the coast of Gibraltar on suspicion of violating sanctions against Syria.

Gibraltar freed the ship after Iran promised the oil won't be sent to Syria.

The US Department of Justice has applied to seize the Iranian supertanker Grace 1 in Gibraltar, just hours before the Gibraltar Government was poised to release it.

But at a court hearing on Thursday, Gibraltar officials revealed the USA request for custody over the ship, and the hearing was adjourned until later in the day.

"Although the U.S. expects its European allies to abide by these sanctions, it is up to the Gibraltar authorities to assess the allegations presented by the U.S.", Khatib said.

However, it remains unknown precisely when the tanker will leave Gibraltar.

It is not clear if the ship has already left port in Gibraltar.

The Grace 1's captain, an Indian national, and three officers were released from detention early yesterday.

Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran's foreign minister, took to Twitter after the news of the release.

Iranian authorities believe Britain detained the ship at the behest of the Trump administration.

Following the detention of the ship on July 4, Iran seized a British-flagged vessel, the Stena Impero, which it continues to hold.

He said the Iranian oil tanker will soon be released and resume sailing freely with the flag of Iran.

The two administration officials said the Grace 1 should now be considered a pariah.

The sabotage attacks come as Iran suffers under crippling sanctions imposed by US President Donald Trump after he pulled the United States from the 2015 nuclear deal created to recover Iran's economy in return for curbing its nuclear programme.

It was stopped after the government of Gibraltar suggested it was heading for Syria.

The UK later announced it would join a US-led taskforce to protect merchant ships travelling through the key shipping route in the Strait of Hormuz.

Nearly a fifth of the world's oil passes through the narrow strait, which lies off the south coast of Iran.

A government spokesman said there will be no legal proceedings against the crew members.

Tehran said Stena Impero had been "violating worldwide maritime rules" but the United Kingdom called its detention an example of "state piracy".

The Gibraltar government said in its statement that it held several meetings with Iranian representatives this month and last to negotiate the tanker's fate, and on Tuesday, the Islamic Republic agreed that the ship's final destination wouldn't be subject to European Union sanctions.

Britain, which has insisted its Iran policy will not change under new Prime Minister Boris Johnson who took office last month, has repeatedly indicated it wants a compromise over the tanker. Iran called the seizure an "act of piracy".

Tensions have escalated in the region since President Donald Trump over a year ago unilaterally withdrew the US from Iran's 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.

In June, Mr Trump was reportedly on the verge of bombing sites in Iran in response to the downing of an American drone.

Picardo's August 16 comments came after the United States said the crew of the supertanker could be subject to a USA visa ban.

"We will not stand by and allow Iran - or anyone - to bypass vital European Union sanctions on a regime that has deployed chemical weapons against its own people", the spokesman said, referring to the Syrian government. It was said to be carrying 2.1 million barrels of crude oil.

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