The Iranian supertanker Grace 1 off the coast of Gibraltar: the US Justice Deparment issued a warrant on August 16, 2019 for the ship to be seized Photo: AFP/File

Iran tanker in limbo off Gibraltar as U.S. issues warrant


A last-minute U.S. warrant to seize an Iranian tanker preparing to leave Gibraltar after weeks of detention cast doubt over its departure on Saturday, prolonging a diplomatic spat between Tehran, London and Washington.

The U.S. Justice Department alleged the ship was part of a scheme "to unlawfully access the U.S. financial system to support illicit shipments to Syria from Iran by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps," which Washington has designated a foreign terrorist organisation.

There was no immediate comment from Britain or Gibraltar, its overseas territory, over whether they would act on the warrant.

Gibraltar seized the ship on July 4 on suspicion it was transporting oil to Syria in breach of European sanctions, triggering a sharp deterioration in relations between Tehran and London. Iran has repeatedly denied this.

Iran subsequently detained the British-flagged tanker Stena Impero in what was seen as a tit-for-tat move.

On Thursday, Gibraltar's Supreme Court ordered the tanker released after the British overseas territory said it had received assurances from Iran that the Grace 1 would not head to any country subject to European Union sanctions.

Preparations are underway for the ship to set sail, with a new crew set to arrive to pilot the tanker and its 2.1 million barrels of oil.

But in a last-minute twist on Friday, the United States, which is at loggerheads with Iran, issued the warrant.

The warrant says the vessel and all the oil aboard are subject to forfeiture based on violations of a U.S. law, the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, which revolves around any unusual or extraordinary threat from overseas to the national security, foreign policy or economy of the United States.

It also cites violations to bank fraud, money laundering and terrorism statutes.

The U.S. move comes after it tried -- and failed -- to block the tanker's release on Thursday.

The July 4 seizure came amid surging tensions in the Gulf after several alleged Iranian attacks on smaller tankers.

The U.S. -- 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 called the detention of the Grace 1 an "illegal interception" staged by the United States, while Washington cheered it as "excellent news."

Ties between Tehran and Washington are at a low point since U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew last year from a landmark 2015 nuclear deal between major powers and Iran, reimposing crippling unilateral sanctions.

On Friday, Iranian officials said the tanker was preparing to set sail under an Iranian flag and would be renamed the Adrian Darya for the voyage.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted that the U.S. attempt at "piracy" had failed, saying it showed Washington's "contempt for the law."

A source close to the case, who refused to be named, told the Gibraltar Chronicle daily that the ship was awaiting the arrival of a new crew before it would leave Gibraltar, and this was "unlikely" to be before Sunday.

The U.S. State Department has threatened to issue a visa ban on anyone working on the ship.

Iran denied Friday 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 tanker's destination was not Syria... and even if it was, it did not concern anyone else."

But Gibraltar insisted it was.

"We have deprived the Assad regime in Syria of more than $140 million worth of crude oil," Gibraltar Chief Minister Fabian Picardo said.

© 2019 AFP

©2019 GPlusMedia Inc.

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Exactly what standing does the US have in this dispute? None!

America remembers the seizure of the American embassy.

The Iranians remember Operation AJAX of the CIA that overthrew the democratically elected prime minister and installed the Shah in 1953 just so cheap oil could flow to the West. They remember the Shah's secret police, trained by CIA and MOSSAD, that tortured and murdered Iranians until the 1979 revolution. They remember our support of and supplying of weaponry and poison gas to Saddam in their 8 year war with Iraq, after Iraq invaded Iran, a war that killed a million Iranians. They remember the civilian aircraft shot down by the US, killing 290 people.

It is not without some justification that Iran regards USA and Israel as existential threats.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

The US is dying for a war with Iran, which would only benefit Israel.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

The interesting question is whether the glaring error in the warrant (hint, check the dates) was an act of sabotage against the warmongers, a deliberate act by the drafters to allow them to posture without running the risk of it ever going to court, or just evidence of the link between arrogance and incompetence.

My bet is a bit of all three.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

They remember our support of and supplying of weaponry and poison gas to Saddam

That wasn't me. I might be American but its nothing on me. Never did it, never supported it. If you want to drag into the streets and tar and feather those Americans who did be my guest. So much has been done without my consent or approval, and I will own none of it simply for being born within certain borders. It was THEM....and they should be punished....handed over to Iran and Iraq a token of sincerity for peaceful future relations.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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