Iran says it has warned US against seizing oil tanker
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Iran says it has warned US against seizing oil tanker

Foreign ministry spokesman says action against ship which had been held by Gibraltar would be a mistake with grave consequences

An Iranian flag flutters on board the Adrian Darya oil tanker, formerly known as Grace 1, off the coast of Gibraltar on August 18, 2019. (Johnny BUGEJA/AFP)
An Iranian flag flutters on board the Adrian Darya oil tanker, formerly known as Grace 1, off the coast of Gibraltar on August 18, 2019. (Johnny BUGEJA/AFP)

TEHRAN, Iran — Tehran said on Monday that it has warned Washington against making another attempt to seize an Iranian tanker that has departed Gibraltar despite a US bid to have it detained.

“Iran has given necessary warnings to American officials through its official channels… not to make such a mistake because it would have grave consequences,” Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi told a news conference.

The tanker at the center of the diplomatic dispute left Gibraltar after the British overseas territory rejected a US demand to seize the vessel.

According to the monitoring website Marine Traffic, the supertanker — which had been detained since July 4 off the coast of Gibraltar — lifted anchor Sunday evening and started sailing south.

Gibraltar seized the Grace 1 on July 4 on suspicion it was transporting oil to Syria in breach of European Union sanctions, triggering a sharp deterioration in relations between Tehran and London. Iran has repeatedly denied any violations.

Its Supreme Court ordered the tanker released last Thursday, with Iranian officials saying a new crew had arrived to pilot the vessel — now renamed the Adrian Darya — and its 2.1 million barrels of oil.

But on Friday, the US Justice Department filed a last-minute request to detain the ship, alleging it was involved in supporting illicit shipments to Syria by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, listed as a terrorist group by Washington.

Gibraltar’s government rejected that request, saying it could not seek a court order to detain the supertanker because US sanctions against Iran were not applicable in the European Union.

As of early Monday, the vessel had turned east, with Marine Traffic reporting its destination as Kalamata in Greece.

A stern view of the Grace 1 super tanker in the British territory of Gibraltar, August 15, 2019, seized last month in a British Royal Navy operation off Gibraltar. (AP Photo/Marcos Moreno)

In its decision ordering the release of the tanker, Gibraltar’s government said it had received written assurances from Iran that the ship would not be headed for countries “subject to European Union sanctions.”

Iran denied 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 US State Department has threatened to issue a visa ban on anyone working on the ship.

Shortly after the Iranian tanker’s detention in early July, Iran seized the British-flagged oil tanker Stena Impero, which remains held by the Islamic republic. Analysts had said the Iranian ship’s release by Gibraltar might mean that the Stena Impero could go free.

But Iranian officials denied there was any link between the two ships.

“There is no specific relation between these two ships,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said of the Stena Impero and the Adrian Darya 1. “We are glad that our stance about the unlawful and illegal seizure of our tanker has been proven.”

“Regarding the release of the law-breaking British tanker (Stena Impero), we have to wait for the court’s ruling,” he added. “This tanker has committed two to three nautical violations that are being investigated. We hope that these investigations will finish as soon as possible and a verdict will be issued and if the verdict orders its release, it can continue to sail its path.”

The July 4 seizure by Gibraltar authorities and by British Royal Marines came amid surging tensions in the Gulf after several alleged Iranian attacks on smaller tankers.

The US — 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.

Ties between Tehran and Washington have frayed since US President Donald Trump withdrew last year from a landmark 2015 nuclear deal between major powers and Iran, reimposing crippling unilateral sanctions.

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