Gibraltar releases crew members of detained Iranian tanker on bail
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Gibraltar releases crew members of detained Iranian tanker on bail

Police in British territory say the captain and three officers from Grace 1 freed without charge, investigation continuing

In this photo from July 6, 2019, crew members walk down a ladder on board supertanker Grace 1, off the coast of Gibraltar on July 6, 2019. (Jorge Guerrero/AFP)
In this photo from July 6, 2019, crew members walk down a ladder on board supertanker Grace 1, off the coast of Gibraltar on July 6, 2019. (Jorge Guerrero/AFP)

The Gibraltar police on Friday released on bail without charge the captain and three officers of an Iranian tanker detained on suspicion of transporting oil to Syria in violation of EU sanctions.

Earlier in the day, Gibraltar police arrested two more Indian crew members of the Grace 1, a day after arresting the tanker’s Indian captain and officer.

A police statement said all four were released on bail with conditions, without elaborating. It added that the investigation is continuing and the Panama-flagged tanker remains detained.

The ship is suspected of breaching European Union sanctions on Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government. It was intercepted by British Royal Marines last week.

In this photo from July 6, 2019, supertanker Grace 1 is seen off the coast of Gibraltar. (Jorge Guerrero/AFP)

Iran, which backs Assad, has bristled at the arrest and issued a series of increasingly ominous warnings to both the United States and Britain about its right to take unspecified actions in reprisal.

“If the enemy had made the smallest assessment they wouldn’t have done this act,” Iran’s Revolutionary Guards deputy commander Ali Fadavi said on Thursday.

The authorities of Gibraltar — a British overseas territory on Spain’s southern tip — said on Friday that the Iranian supertanker was carrying 2.1 million barrels of light crude oil.

They also insisted that they had asked British Naval Marines to help with the Iranian tanker’s arrest without any outside political pressure.

British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt called on Friday for “cool heads” to prevail as threats mount.

“We want to do everything we can to make sure that we don’t have an unintended escalation which could be very dangerous for the world,” Hunt said.

Also Friday, Britain said it was sending a second warship to the Persian Gulf and raising the alert level in the oil-rich region as tensions spiked after Iranian gunboats threatened a UK supertanker.

US President Donald Trump makes his way to board Air Force One before departing from Cleveland Hopkins International Airport in Cleveland, Ohio, on July 12, 2019. (Mandel Ngan/AFP)

The decision was disclosed as US President Donald Trump stepped up his war of words with the Islamic Republic, which breached part of a nuclear accord already rejected by Washington.

“Iran better be careful,” Trump told reporters outside the White House.

“They’re treading on very dangerous territory. Iran, if you’re listening, you better be careful.”

British officials said the naval deployment was part of a pre-planned rotation and meant to ensure a continued British naval presence in one of the most important but volatile oil shipment routes in the world.

But a source said the switchover was brought forward by several days and should see two of Britain’s most advanced warships jointly navigating the waters off Iran for a period that might last a number of weeks.

A government spokesman said the HMS Duncan was “deploying to the region to ensure we maintain a continuous maritime security presence while HMS Montrose comes off task for pre-planned maintenance and crew changeover.”

On Wednesday, HMS Montrose warned off three fast Iranian gunboats that UK officials said were trying to “impede” the progress of a British supertanker through the Strait of Hormuz in the Gulf.

Iranian officials have denied the incident ever happened.

In this photo from September 3, 2014, the British naval vessel HMS Duncan is pictured docked in Cardiff Bay in Wales on the eve of a NATO summit. (Carl Court/AFP)

The British government decided at the start of the week to raise the alert level for ships traveling through Iranian waters to three on a three-point scale, indicating a “critical” threat.

HMS Duncan is an air defense destroyer that carries a set of heavy Harpoon anti-ship missiles and has a company and crew in excess of 280.

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