A senior Iranian official has claimed that Britain will soon release an oil tanker that it seized last month amid escalating tensions between the Islamic Republic and Western powers.
Iran’s semi-official Fars News Agency quoted Jalil Eslami, the deputy chief of Iran’s Ports and Maritime Organization, as saying that following consultations between Tehran and London, the “Grace 1 oil tanker will resume operation under Iranian flag [sic] in international waters in the very near future.”
The Grace 1 supertanker, carrying 2.1 million barrels of oil, was intercepted by British Royal Marines and Gibraltar’s police on July 4 as it transited through waters claimed by Gibraltar, which is located on Spain’s southern tip.
According to Eslami, who provided few details about how or when the supertanker may be returned, there has been an exchange of unspecified documents between the two sides.
Gibraltar and US officials believed the tanker was destined for Syria to deliver oil, in violation of separate sets of EU and US sanctions. The Iranians condemned the British move, terming it an “illegal interception.”
In what London called a “tit-for-tat” move, Iran’s Revolutionary Guards impounded a British-flagged tanker in the Strait of Hormuz two weeks later.
Late last month, London announced that it is planning a European-led protection force in the Persian Gulf but emphasized that London was not seeking a confrontation with Iran and that such an undertaking would “not be part of the US maximum pressure policy on Iran.”
It later said it would join a US-led mission to protect cargo ships traveling through the Strait of Hormuz.
Britain currently has two warships, the HMS Duncan and the HMS Montrose, accompanying UK-flagged ships through the Strait of Hormuz.
Tensions have risen in the Gulf since the United States decided in May 2018 to withdraw from a landmark accord to limit Iran’s nuclear program and began to reintroduce sanctions.