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Iran warns British detention of oil tanker won’t go ‘unanswered’

Army head says capture of ship was based on ‘fabricated excuses,’ threatens to respond if necessary

The Grace 1 supertanker in the British territory of Gibraltar, July 4, 2019. (AP Photo/Marcos Moreno)
The Grace 1 supertanker in the British territory of Gibraltar, July 4, 2019. (AP Photo/Marcos Moreno)

Tehran warned Tuesday that Britain’s seizure of an Iranian oil tanker will not go “unanswered” after denying earlier in the week that the ship detained in Gibraltar was carrying crude to Syria, which would put it in violation of EU sanctions.

According to the semi-official Tasnim news agency, cited by Reuters, Iran’s armed forces chief of staff, Major General Mohammad Bagheri, said that Iran would respond if necessary to the ship’s detention.

“Capture of the Iranian oil tanker based on fabricated excuses … will not be unanswered and when necessary Tehran will give appropriate answer,” Bagheri said.

On Friday Tehran threatened to seize a British tanker if the UK doesn’t release the Iranian ship.

Crew members walk on board supertanker Grace 1 off the coast of Gibraltar on July 6, 2019 (JORGE GUERRERO / AFP)

The 330-meter (1,000-feet) Grace 1, capable of carrying 2 million barrels of oil, was halted in the early hours of Thursday by police and customs agencies in Gibraltar, a British overseas territory on Spain’s southern tip at the western entrance to the Mediterranean.

The ship was detained 2.5 miles (four kilometers) south of Gibraltar in what Britain claims as its waters, although Spain, which lays claim to the territory, says they are Spanish.

Tehran said Sunday that the ship was not headed for Syria.

“The tanker was carrying Iran’s oil… Contrary to what the British government claims, its destination was not Syria,” said Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi at a press conference in Tehran.

“The port named in Syria does not even have the capacity for such a supertanker to dock. Its destination was somewhere else,” he added.

Araghchi said the tanker was crossing the Strait of Gibraltar because its “high capacity” meant “it was not possible for it to pass through the Suez Canal.”

He insisted the tanker was intercepted in international waters and accused Britain’s Royal Navy of committing “maritime piracy.”

The tanker’s detention came at a sensitive time in Iran-EU ties, as the bloc mulls how to respond to Tehran breaching the uranium enrichment limit it agreed to in the troubled 2015 nuclear deal.

Iran is currently following “the legal path through court” but hopes the issue can be resolved by “ongoing diplomatic consultations,” Araghchi added.

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