TEHRAN: An Iranian tanker seized by Gibraltar last month is preparing to set sail after being released, a senior Iranian shipping official said on Friday.
The ship’s seizure on July 4, with the help of British Royal Marines, triggered a sharp deterioration in relations between Tehran and London and the tit-for-tat detention by Iran of the British-flagged tanker Stena Impero.
The Grace 1 will be renamed and switch to the Iranian flag for its onward journey, the deputy head of Iran’s Ports and Maritime Organisation, Jalil Eslami, told state television.
“At the owner’s request, the Grace 1 will depart for the Mediterranean after being reflagged under the Islamic Republic of Iran’s flag and renamed as Adrian Darya for the voyage,” Eslami said.
“The ship was of Russian origin and Panama-flagged and is carrying two million barrels of Iranian oil,” he added.
But a source with knowledge of the case told the Gibraltar Chronicle daily that the tanker is unlikely to set sail before Sunday.
“Six seafarers including a master will arrive on Sunday,” the source said on condition of anonymity. “The ship is unlikely to sail before then.” Gibraltar’s Supreme Court ordered the tanker released on Thursday after the British overseas territory said it had received assurances from Iran that the Grace 1 would not head to any country subject to European Union sanctions.
The vessel had been detained on suspicion that its cargo was destined for the Banyas oil refinery in Syria in breach of an EU embargo.
But Iran denied it had provided any assurances to secure the ship’s release, saying Gibraltar was only seeking to “save face”.
“Iran has given no assurances over the Grace 1 not going to Syria to secure its release,” the state broadcaster’s youth website quoted foreign ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi as saying Friday.
“The tanker’s destination was not Syria... and even if it was, it did not concern anyone else.”
But the Gibraltar government insisted that Tehran had given a written commitment.
“The written position... confirms that the Islamic Republic of Iran has provided the commitment referred to... The facts speak louder than the self-serving political statements we are hearing today,” it said in a statement from its spokesman.
It added that “the evidence located aboard the Grace 1... demonstrates that the vessel was going to Syria”.
Hours before the court’s ruling, the United States launched a last-minute legal move demanding that the Gibraltar authorities extend the vessel’s detention. On Thursday, Washington threatened a visa ban on the crew of the tanker.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted that the US attempt at “piracy” had failed, saying it showed Washington’s “contempt for the law”.
Tehran and Washington have been at loggerheads since US President Donald Trump withdrew last year from a landmark 2015 nuclear deal between major powers and Iran, reimposing crippling unilateral sanctions.
Following the Grace 1’s release, Britain renewed its demand that Iran release the British-flagged tanker it seized in the Strait of Hormuz on July 19.
Tehran claimed that Stena Impero was in violation of “international maritime rules”, but the move was widely seen as retaliation for the detention of the Grace 1.
Published in Dawn, August 17th, 2019