The United States (US) has expressed its disappointment at the UK for allowing the Iranian tanker detained in Gibraltar to be released yesterday, and has threatened to impose sanctions on any person, bank, port, or entity which does business with the vessel or its crew.
After a month under detention at the British-administered island of Gibraltar, a Supreme Court hearing ruled that the Grace 1 was innocent of its original charge of transporting oil to Syria in violation of US and European Union (EU) sanctions, receiving assurances from Tehran that the tanker would not be unloading its cargo in the war-torn country.
Gibraltar's Chief Minister Fabian Picardo announced yesterday afternoon that "In light of the assurances we have received, there are no longer any reasonable grounds for the continued legal detention…The Grace 1 is therefore now released from detention."
The US then issued an application to block the release of the vessel, demanding that Gibraltar keep it detained or that it should be handed over to the US itself. The application, however, was refused and the Grace 1 was released shortly after, prompting the US to claim that the court order was rewarding terrorism and that Iran would see the act as appeasement.
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In a statement last night, State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said that the ship "was assisting the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) by transporting oil from Iran to Syria. This could result in serious consequences for any individuals associated with the Grace I."
In response to the tanker's release, the US has threatened to impose sanctions on any entity which does business with the vessel or its crew, with Ortagus warning that "In the case of the M/T Grace I, we will continue to act consistent with our existing policies concerning those who provide material support to the IRGC."
She also threatened to revoke and ban visas of the tanker's crew, who are mostly Indians, saying "Crewmembers of vessels assisting the IRGC (Revolutionary Guard Corps) by transporting oil from Iran may be ineligible for visas or admission to the United States under the terrorism-related inadmissibility grounds…The maritime community should be aware that the US government intends to revoke visas held by members of such crews."
The Iranian tanker was seized in early July by the authorities and British naval forces on the grounds that it was transporting oil to Syria, with Iran capturing the British tanker Stena Impero as it passed through the Strait of Hormuz days later. Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif claimed Tehran's actions were not done in revenge but because the vessel had violated international maritime laws by intruding on Iranian waters.