Date
22 October 2019
A British Royal Navy patrol vessel guards the oil supertanker Grace 1 that is suspected of carrying Iranian crude oil to Syria, as it sits anchored in waters of Gibraltar. Photo: Reuters
A British Royal Navy patrol vessel guards the oil supertanker Grace 1 that is suspected of carrying Iranian crude oil to Syria, as it sits anchored in waters of Gibraltar. Photo: Reuters

Britain seizes Iranian oil tanker over Syria sanctions

British Royal Marines seized a giant Iranian oil tanker in Gibraltar on Thursday for trying to take oil to Syria in violation of EU sanctions, a dramatic step that drew Tehran’s fury and could escalate its confrontation with the West, Reuters reports.

The Grace 1 tanker was impounded in the British territory on the southern tip of Spain after sailing around Africa, the report said.

Iran’s Foreign Ministry summoned the British ambassador to voice “very strong objection to the illegal and unacceptable seizure” of its ship.

The diplomatic gesture lifted any doubt over Iran’s ownership of the vessel, which flies a Panama flag and is listed as managed by a company in Singapore, the report noted.

US National Security Advisor John Bolton said the British move was “excellent news.”

“America & our allies will continue to prevent regimes in Tehran & Damascus from profiting off this illicit trade,” Bolton said on Twitter.

Shipping data reviewed by Reuters suggests the tanker was carrying Iranian oil loaded off the coast of Iran, although its documents say the oil is from neighboring Iraq.

While Europe has banned oil shipments to Syria since 2011, it had never seized a tanker at sea. Unlike the United States, Europe does not have broad sanctions against Iran.

Authorities in Gibraltar made no reference to the source of the oil or the ownership of the ship when they seized it.

But Iran’s acknowledgment that it owned the ship, and the likelihood that its cargo was also Iranian, drew a link between the incident and a new US effort to halt all global sales of Iranian crude. Iran describes that as an illegal “economic war”.

European countries have so far tried to appear neutral in the escalating confrontation between Tehran and Washington.

The Gibraltar government said it had reasonable grounds to believe that the Grace 1 was carrying crude oil to the Baniyas refinery in Syria.

“That refinery is the property of an entity that is subject to European Union sanctions against Syria,” Gibraltar Chief Minister Fabian Picardo said. “With my consent, our port and law enforcement agencies sought the assistance of the Royal Marines in carrying out this operation.”

A spokesman for British Prime Minister Theresa May welcomed Gibraltar’s move.

Spain, which challenges British ownership of Gibraltar, said the action was prompted by a US request to Britain and appeared to have taken place in Spanish waters.

– Contact us at [email protected]

RC