WASHINGTON — US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo expressed frustration Monday over the “very unfortunate” decision to release an Iranian tanker held off Gibraltar, in an implicit rebuke to ally Britain.
The British overseas territory rejected a US demand to seize the vessel, which has since departed Gibraltar and entered international waters.
“It’s very unfortunate that that ship was released,” Pompeo told Fox News when asked if the move was a mistake by the British.
Iran’s foreign ministry said Monday it had warned Washington against making another attempt to seize the tanker.
“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.
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.
According to the monitoring website Marine Traffic, the supertanker lifted anchor Sunday evening and started sailing south with its $130 million cargo.
It set course for Kalamata, Greece, with an estimated arrival on August 25, according to ship tracking service. It wasn’t immediately clear why the tanker would be heading there or whether the destination could change.