Iran says no trade-off for seized British ship after Gibraltar released tanker

Aug 19, 2019
The Iranian oil tanker, Grace 1, at the centre of a diplomatic dispute has departed from Gibraltar after the British overseas territory rejected a US demand to seize the vessel.
 
But the Commander of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC), Navy Rear Admiral Alireza Tangsiri said that the fate of the British oil tanker, Stena Impero seized in the Iranian waters depends on a decision made by the judiciary.
 
“The violations of the British ship are clear and it has had three violations which should be studied and the Judiciary and the Ports and Maritime Organization of Iran should decide about it,” Rear Admiral Tangsiri said, Fars News reported.
 
He said “Seizure and freedom of the two are not related.”
 
The British oil tanker, Stena Impero, was impounded by Iran’s IRGC on July 19 for numerous violations of international maritime regulations when it was passing through the Strait of Hormuz.
 
The British-flagged vessel has 23 crew members, 18 of which were from India. The other crew members are from Russia, Latvia and the Philippines.
 
The apprehension of the British vessel came two weeks after British naval forces seized Iranian-owned supertanker Grace 1 and its cargo of 2.1 million barrels of oil in the Strait of Gibraltar.
 
According to the monitoring website Marine Traffic, the supertanker — which had been detained since July 4 off the coast of Gibraltar — lifted anchor Sunday evening and started sailing south.
 
Gibraltar seized the Grace 1, carrying 2.1m barrels on July 4 on suspicion it was transporting oil to Syria in breach of European Union sanctions, triggering a sharp deterioration in relations between Tehran and London. Iran has repeatedly denied any violations.
 
Its Supreme Court ordered the tanker released last Thursday, with Iranian officials saying a new crew had arrived to pilot the vessel — now renamed the Adrian Darya — and its 2.1 million barrels of oil.
 
But on Friday, the US Justice Department filed a last-minute request to detain the ship, alleging it was involved in supporting illicit shipments to Syria by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, listed as a terrorist group by Washington.
 
Gibraltar’s government rejected that request, saying it could not seek a court order to detain the supertanker because US sanctions against Iran were not applicable in the European Union.
 
As of early Monday, the vessel had turned east, with Marine Traffic reporting its destination as Kalamata in Greece.
 
In its decision ordering the release of the tanker, Gibraltar’s government said it had received written assurances from Iran that the ship would not be headed for countries “subject to European Union sanctions”.
 
Iran denied it had made any promises about the ship’s destination to secure the release.
 
“Iran has given no assurances over the Grace 1 not going to Syria to secure its release,” a state media website quoted foreign ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi as saying.
 
The US State Department has threatened to issue a visa ban on anyone working on the ship.
 
The July 4 seizure by Gibraltar authorities and by British Royal Marines came amid surging tensions in the Gulf after several alleged Iranian attacks on smaller tankers.
 
The US — citing Tehran’s threat to American allies — expanded its military presence in the region with a new aircraft carrier task force, missile batteries and strategic bombers.
 
Iran termed the move an “illegal interception” staged by the United States, while Washington cheered it as “excellent news”.
 
Iran subsequently detained the British-flagged tanker Stena Impero in what was seen as a tit-for-tat move.
 
Ties between Tehran and Washington have frayed since President Donald Trump withdrew last year from a landmark 2015 nuclear deal between major powers and Iran, reimposing crippling unilateral sanctions.
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