Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 9 August 2020

Gibraltar bails Iranian tanker crew but ship staying put for now

UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt has said Britain is not seeking to exacerbate the situation with Iran

A British soldier looks on during an operation involving the oil supertanker Grace 1, which is suspected of trying to take Iranian crude oil to Syria. UK Ministry of Defence
A British soldier looks on during an operation involving the oil supertanker Grace 1, which is suspected of trying to take Iranian crude oil to Syria. UK Ministry of Defence

All four crew members of the impounded Iranian Grace 1 tanker have been released on bail without charge by authorities in Gibraltar after their vessel was detained on suspicion of breaking European sanctions on Syria.

Gibraltar police said earlier on Friday that they had arrested the two second mates from the tanker, a day after the vessel’s captain and chief officer were arrested.

In a statement, the police said all four crew members were granted bail with conditions. It did not elaborate but said the investigation was ongoing and that the Grace 1 continues to be detained.

The Grace 1 was apprehended in British waters around the overseas territory on July 4 and ordered to dock at Gibraltar.

Authorities on the outcrop said that has 2.1 million barrels of light crude oil aboard and is believed to have been trying to transport the cargo to Syria – in contravention of sanctions due to the ongoing civil war.

Fabian Picardo, Gibraltar’s Chief Minister, said the decision to order the Royal Marines to seize the tanker was taken independently and not at the request of any other country.

“The decisions of Her Majesty’s government of Gibraltar were taken totally independently, based on breaches of existing law and not at all based on extraneous political considerations,” Mr Picardo told Gibraltar’s parliament.

“These important decisions about breaches of our laws were not decisions taken at the political behest or instruction of any other state or third party.”

Tehran has demanded that Britain release the ship and denies that it was taking oil to Syria in violation of sanctions. The affair has led to an increase in tension in the Arabian Gulf, with Britain saying on Thursday that it fended off Iranian ships that tried to block a British tanker.

The UK has since ordered the HMS Duncan, the largest of the new Daring-class destroyers built by the Royal Navy, to be redeployed to the Gulf.

Tehran blames the United States for arranging to have the Grace 1 seized. Washington has imposed sanctions against Iran with the aim of halting all Iranian oil exports. European countries do not have sanctions against Iran, but have had them in place against Iran’s ally Syria since 2011.

“All relevant decisions in respect of this matter were taken only as a direct result of the government of Gibraltar having reasonable grounds to believe the vessel was acting in breach of established EU sanctions against Syria,” Mr Picardo said.

“We will not allow Gibraltar to be used or knowingly or unknowingly complicit in the breach of EU or other international sanctions.”

He said the provenance and origin of the cargo had not been relevant to the actions, which he also said could be challenged in the courts.

UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt has tried to ease concerns of escalation, on Friday telling Sky News that Britain is not seeking to exacerbate the situation with Iran.

“We are reacting to what is happening in a measured and careful way and we are being clear to Iran that we are not seeking to escalate this situation,” he said.

Updated: July 14, 2019 01:58 PM

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