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Iran denies giving guarantees to divert seized tanker’s destination

August 17, 2019 at 12:31 pm

An oil tanker, 19 July 2019 [US Navy / Wikipedia]

Iran has denied that it has given guarantees to secure the release of its Grace 1 oil tanker, which was detained by Gibraltar last month on suspicion of sending oil to Syria.

“Iran did not give any guarantees to secure the release of the tanker Grace 1,” Abbas Musawi, spokesman for Iran’s Foreign Ministry, was reported as saying by Iran’s Tasnim news agency.

“As we have said before, the tanker was not heading to Syria and, if it was, it is no one’s business,” he added, stressing that Iran is ready to sell its oil to any old or new customers.

“Iran said from the beginning that Grace 1 was not heading to Syria […] The UK and Gibraltar authorities claimed they had guarantees just to coverup the honourable release of the tanker,” he said.

READ: British warship sets sail for tanker escort mission in Gulf

Authorities in Gibraltar have released Grace 1, which was seized on 4 July on suspicion that it was heading to Syria, in breach of European Union (EU) sanctions. The tanker was claimed to be transporting cargo of 2.1 million barrels of Iranian crude oil to the Baniyas Oil Refinery, on Syria’s Mediterranean coast.

The tanker was detained by Gibraltar’s law enforcement agencies, with the support of the British Royal Marines.

Following tension caused by the detention or the tanker, Gibraltar’s Prime Minister Fabian Picardo met with Iranian officials in UK capital London in order to de-escalate the situation.

According to World Maritime News, the owner of the cargo has been confirmed to be the National Iranian Oil Company, while the vessel has been re-flagged under the Iranian flag and re-insured.

READ: Iran tanker shifts position but still at anchor off Gibraltar

On 13 August, Gibraltar claimed to have received written assurance from Iran that, if released, the destination of Grace 1 would not be an entity that is subject to EU sanctions.

“This is an important material change in the destination of the vessel and the beneficiary of its cargo,” Picardo said.

“In light of the assurances we have received, there are no longer any reasonable grounds for the continued legal detention of the Grace 1 in order to ensure compliance with the EU Sanctions Regulation.”

Separately, the United States Department of Justice has requested that a new legal procedure for the detention of the vessel should be commenced. The department yesterday unveiled a warrant for the seizure of the tanker, on the grounds that it represented “a scheme to unlawfully access the US financial system to support illicit shipments to Syria from Iran by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC)”.

READ: US states disappointment at UK for release of Iran tanker, threatens sanctions

The warrant says the tanker, all the oil on board and $995,000 are subject to forfeiture based on violations of the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA), as well as bank fraud, money laundering and terrorism forfeiture statutes.

“That is a matter for our independent Mutual Legal Assistance authorities who will make an objective, legal determination of that request for separate proceedings,” Gibraltar’s Prime Minister said of the US warrant.

Tensions in the Gulf of Hormuz – Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]