DUBAI: An Iranian tanker at the centre of an angry confrontation between Iran and Washington sailed for Greece on Monday after it was freed from detention off Gibraltar, as Tehran said any US move to seize the vessel again would have “heavy consequences”.

While Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif appeared to downplay the possibility of military conflict with Washington in an interview on US television, he also indicated on a visit to Finland that Washington was seeking “more escalation”.

The Grace 1, renamed the Adrian Darya 1, left anchorage off Gibraltar about 11 pm on Sunday. Refinitiv ship tracking data showed on Monday that the vessel was heading to Kalamata in Greece and was scheduled to arrive next Sunday.

The seizure of the tanker by British Royal Marines near Gibraltar in July 4 on suspicion of carrying oil to Syria in violation of European Union sanctions led to a weeks-long confrontation between Tehran and the West. It also heightened tensions on international oil shipping routes through the Gulf.

Gibraltar, a British overseas territory, lifted the detention order on Thursday but the next day a federal court in Washington issued a warrant for the seizure of the tanker, the oil it carries and nearly $1 million.

Gibraltar said on Sunday it could not comply with that request because it was bound by EU law. Washington wanted to detain the tanker on the grounds that it had links to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), which it has designated a terrorist organisation.

“We are happy this ordeal has ended and I hope this will lead to less escalation,” Zarif said while visiting Finland.

He also said the US warrant had no legal basis and was politically motivated to “make more escalation”.

But in an interview with the American NBC network Zarif said that Iran would not take military action to end its standoff with its longtime adversary.

We will not. We have never done that, in the past 250 years. We have defended ourselves. And we have taught good lessons to those who invaded us,” Zarif said.

He also appeared to downplay the possibility of US military action against the Islamic Republic in the interview, saying the US habit of saying “No option is off the table” in its approach to Iran was a violation of the UN Charter. Greek authorities had no immediate comment on the situation.

Iran said on Monday any US attempt to seize the tanker would have “heavy consequences”.

Asked whether the United States could renew its seizure request after the tanker sailed from Gibraltar, Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said: “Such an action, and even the talk of it ... would endanger shipping safety in open seas.” “Iran has issued the necessary warnings through official channels, especially the Swiss embassy, to American officials not to commit such an error because it would have heavy consequences,” Mousavi said in remarks on state television.

Switzerland represents US interests in Iran, which has no diplomatic relations with the United States.

The Adrian Darya 1, which was re-flagged to Iran after being de-listed by Panama on May 29, was fully laden and carrying about 2 million barrels of oil, Refinitiv data showed. The cargo was valued at tens of millions of dollars.

Published in Dawn, August 20th, 2019