A senior Iranian politician has threatened to seize a British oil tanker if its vessel which was detained off the coast of Gibraltar is not ‘immediately’ released.
Mohsen Rezaee, secretary of Iran’s Expediency Discernment Council, said it was Iran’s ‘duty’ to retaliate after Royal Marines and Gibraltar police intercepted the Grace 1 tanker on Thursday.
He tweeted: ‘The Islamic Revolution was never an initiator of tension during its 40-year-old history, however, it has not hesitated to respond to bullies.
‘If UK doesn’t return the Iranian tanker, the duty of responsible [Iranian] bodies is to seize a British oil tanker in a retaliatory measure.’
Britain says the tanker was carrying the oil to Syria in violation of EU sanctions which came into force against the country in 2011.
Senior Iranian politician Moshen Rezaee called on ‘responsible authorities’ to seize a British oil tanker in retaliation for one of its vessels being detained off Gibraltar on Thursday
Iran has accused the UK of ‘piracy’ carried out at America’s bidding after the Grace 1 tanker was seized on Thursday and demanded the vessel’s ‘immediate’ release
Royal Marines from 42 Commando are pictured ‘fast-roping’ from a Wildcat helicopter (left) on to the supertanker Grace 1
As some marines dropped from the helicopter, others approached on fast inflatable dinghies
Royal Marines ‘fast-roped’ down from a Wildcat helicopter in the early hours of Thursday to seize the Grace 1 as other approached on fast, inflatable dinghies.
Royal Gibraltar Police were also involved in the raid.
British authorities said on Friday that the crew of the tanker are being interviewed – as witnesses, not criminals – in an effort to establish the nature of the cargo and its ultimate destination.
The spokesman said the 28-member crew, who have remained on board the supertanker, were mainly Indians with some Pakistanis and Ukrainians.
Police and customs officials remained on board the vessel to carry out their investigation but the Royal Marines were no longer present.
It comes after Abbas Moussavi, a spokesman for Iran’s foreign ministry, accused Britain of ‘piracy’ carried out at America’s request.
The US imposed sanctions on Iranian oil last year after Donald Trump walked away from a nuclear deal signed under Obama. EU countries have not applied sanctions.
In fact, the EU launched a financial trading system Thursday which it hoped would skirt some US sanctions in the hopes of salvaging the deal.
Royal Marines from 42 Commando took part in the seizure of a huge tanker on the 4th July 2019 in the Gibraltar Strait
The Royal Marines were followed on board shortly by Gibraltar police and the ship was handed over to them to continue with further checks and procedures
The operation went off without a hitch and commandos were able to board the vessel quickly
The Grace 1 is a 1,000ft Panamanian-flagged tanker, according to the shipping trade publication Lloyd’s List
Mr Borrell also told reporters in Madrid that Spain is assessing the implications of the operation because the detention took place in waters it considers its own.
Britain insists Gibraltar is part of the United Kingdom but Spain argues that it is not, and the tanker operation risks offending the Spanish.
Shipping data indicates that the tanker loaded up with Iranian oil around April 17, before setting off around Africa in order to reach Syria via the Mediterranean.
‘We have reason to believe that the ‘Grace 1′ was carrying its shipment of crude oil to the Banyas Refinery in Syria,’ Gibraltar’s Chief Minister Fabian Picardo said.
‘That refinery is the property of an entity that is subject to European Union sanctions against Syria.’
The Grace 1 is a 1,000ft Panamanian-flagged tanker, according to the shipping trade publication Lloyd’s List.
Refinitiv Eikon mapping shows the Grace 1 sailed a longer route to the mouth of the Mediterranean around the southern tip of Africa instead of via Egypt’s Suez Canal.
The tanker was documented as loading fuel oil in Iraq in December, though the Iraqi port did not list it as being in port and its tracking system was switched off.
The tanker then reappeared on tracking maps near Iran’s port of Bandar Assaluyeh, fully loaded.
If confirmed, the Grace 1 would be the first ship carrying Iranian oil to enter European waters since 2018.
Sixteen officers from the Royal Gibraltar Police (boat pictured left) also boarded the tanker. Spain said the raid was carried out after a request by the US
Gibraltar’s Chief Minister Fabian Picardo said the tanker was carrying oil to a refinery in Syria. Shipping data reveals the cargo likely originated in Iran
A dinghy belonging to the Royal Marines and a larger vessel of the Royal Gibraltar Police sit alongside the Grace 1 supertaker on Thursday
The stoppage comes at a politically sensitive time – as Europe launches a financial trading instrument designed to circumvent US sanctions on Iran in an attempt to save the nuclear deal.
European Union sanctions against the government of Syria took effect in May 2011, shortly after the start of President Bashar al-Assad’s bloody crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators that mushroomed into a protracted civil war.
Iran, a close ally of Assad, is also under a U.S. sanctions regime meant to bar all international sales of Iranian oil, imposed after President Donald Trump withdrew Washington last year from world powers’ 2015 nuclear deal with Tehran.
In a statement, the Gibraltar government said it had reasonable grounds to believe that the Grace 1 was carrying its shipment of crude oil to the Banyas 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.’
Government-controlled areas of Syria suffered acute fuel shortages earlier this year resulting from what Assad described as an economic siege.
In May, Syria received its first foreign oil supplies for six months with the arrival of two shipments including one from Iran, a source familiar with the shipment said.
The Gibraltar government published regulations on Wednesday to enforce the sanctions against the tanker and its cargo.
A British Foreign Office spokesman said: ‘We welcome this firm action by the Gibraltarian authorities, acting to enforce the EU Syria Sanctions regime.’
Earlier this year, Reuters revealed how the Grace 1 was one of four tankers involved in shipping Iranian fuel oil to Singapore and China, in violation of U.S. sanctions.
British forces believe the Grace 1 was being used to transport crude oil to a refinery in Syria in breach of EU sanctions (pictured, a Royal Navy support vessel off Gibraltar)
Shipping data indicates the ship is a 300,000-tonne, Panamanian-flagged tanker managed by Singapore-based IShips Management Pte Ltd.
Iran has accused the Trump administration of waging ‘economic war’ against it with a campaign to reduce Iranian oil exports to zero, following the U.S. pullout from a global nuclear deal that Trump said was dangerously flawed in Tehran’s favour.
Iranian crude exports were around 300,000 barrels per day or less in late June, industry sources said, a fraction of the more than 2.5 million barrels per day that Iran shipped in April 2018, the month before Trump withdrew from the nuclear deal.
Iran has vowed to breach the accord’s curbs on its uranium enrichment capacity one by one until it is able to sell that amount of oil again.
Tehran says this is the least it should be able to expect from a deal that offered economic gains in exchange for nuclear limits.
Fears of war have risen as the U.S.-Iranian stand-off have led to attacks on several oil tankers in the Gulf, Iran’s shooting downing of a U.S. military surveillance drone, and planned U.S. air strikes on Iran called off by Trump at the last minute.
Iran has refused to be pushed into negotiations on stricter limits to its nuclear activity and regional behaviour.