In defiance of US warrant, Iranian oil tanker with Indian crew prepares to leave from Gibraltar

  • An Iranian oil supertanker released from detention by Gibraltar authorities earlier this week could be ready to sail on with its Indian crew on board soon

  • The Gibraltar government confirmed that it would not be able to seek a court detention order on behalf of the US authorities

  • 'The EU sanctions regime against Iran – which is applicable in Gibraltar – is much narrower than that applicable in the US,' a statement said

London: An Iranian oil supertanker released from detention by Gibraltar authorities earlier this week could be ready to sail on with its Indian crew on board soon, in defiance of a US warrant after the British territory's government said it was unable to seek a court order to detain the vessel.

Grace 1, which had been detained in the semi-autonomous British Overseas Territory of Gibraltar on the Spanish coast last month, has been renamed the Adrain Darya based on the Persian word for sea.

The vessel, which had been Panama flagged, has been re-flagged under the flag of Iran and is free to leave after the Gibraltar government confirmed that it would not be able to seek a court detention order on behalf of the US authorities.

 In defiance of US warrant, Iranian oil tanker with Indian crew prepares to leave from Gibraltar

Iranian oil tanker Grace 1 was seized by Gibraltar on 4 July. AP

The US has obtained a warrant to seize the vessel over violations of American sanctions on Iran.

"The Gibraltar Central Authority is unable seek an order of the Supreme Court of Gibraltar to provide the restraining assistance required by the United States of America," a Gibraltar government statement said on Sunday.

It clarified that the inability to seek the orders sought by the US is based on the application of the European Union (EU) law and the differences in the sanctions regimes applicable to Iran in the EU and the US.

"The EU sanctions regime against Iran – which is applicable in Gibraltar – is much narrower than that applicable in the US," the statement notes.

The US department of justice had requested that a new legal procedure for the detention of the tanker be commenced on the grounds that it has links to Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), which it designates as a terrorist organisation.  However, Gibraltar said that it was unable to provide assistance under the purview of the International Mutual Legal Assistance, because the IRGC is not a designated foreign terrorist organisation in Gibraltar, the UK or in the EU generally, unlike in the US.

It would therefore seem that after meeting all the requirements under its agreement with the Gibraltar authorities, the renamed Grace 1 would be ready to depart soon.

"At the owner's request, the Grace 1 will depart for the Mediterranean after being reflagged under the Islamic Republic of Iran's flag and renamed as Adrian Darya for the voyage," Jalil Eslami, deputy head of Iran's Ports and Maritime Organisation, was quoted as saying in the UK media.

"The 25-member crew will start their journey after preparations, including refuelling. The ship was of Russian origin and Panama-flagged and is carrying 2 million barrels of Iranian oil," said Eslami.

The Gibraltar authorities had said the tanker was en route to Syria in breach of EU sanctions and had agreed to lift its detention order after formal written assurances from Iran that the ship would not discharge its cargo in Syria and therefore not be in breach of the EU sanctions.

The crew on board the vessel include majority Indians but also Russians, Latvians and Filipinos, who spent over a month in detention on board the ship since it was seized on 4 July. They should now be able to sail on to a destination agreed with Iran and the owner of the tanker – the National Iranian Oil Company.

"I am pleased and proud to be able to report to the EU that the actions of the Gibraltar authorities have disrupted this attempt to use Gibraltar to violate EU sanctions," Fabian Picardo, the Chief Minister of Gibraltar, said earlier this week.

While the US continues its attempt to try and seize the vessel, Britain maintains that the tanker must abide by assurances given to Gibraltar and not proceed to Syria.

"We note the Government of Gibraltar has received assurances from Iran that the Grace 1 will not proceed to Syria. Iran must abide by the assurances they have provided," a spokesperson for the foreign and commonwealth office (FCO) said.

"We will not stand by and allow Iran – or anyone – to bypass vital EU sanctions on a regime that has deployed chemical weapons against its own people," the spokesperson said.

The Gibraltar port and law enforcement agencies had detained the supertanker and its cargo during an operation conducted by the Royal Gibraltar Police (RGP), customs and port authority with the support of British Royal Marines.

The detention of the vessel related to the suspected destination of the cargo, the Banyas refinery in Syria, which is owned by the Banyas Oil Refinery Company.  The Gibraltar government said that its investigations produced evidence confirming that at the time of its detention the Grace 1 was “indeed carrying its cargo to the Baniyas refinery in Syria”, which was in contravention of Article 14 of the EU Regulation on sanctions on Syria.

However, following the assurances given by Iran and the Indian-origin captain of the ship, the Gibraltar government “revoked the Specification of the Vessel” order.

The US demand for its seizure is part of President Donald Trump's administration's efforts to intensify the effect of existing Western economic sanctions on both Iran and Syria. Iran had blamed the US for arranging to have its ship seized in the wake of sanctions imposed against Iran with the aim of halting all its oil exports.

European countries do not have sanctions against Iran but have had them in place against Iran's ally Syria since 2011.

Updated Date: Aug 18, 2019 23:16:54 IST