Iran warns US against seizing newly freed oil tanker

Tuesday, 20 Aug, 2019

An Iranian supertanker sought by the United States on suspicion of being tied to a sanctioned organization has set sail for Greece hours after Gibraltar rejected a US request to detain the vessel further.

Iran's Ports and Maritime Organization reported that the tanker had changed its name from Grace 1 to Adrian Darya and was heading to one of the Mediterranean ports. Its destination was not immediately clear.

Iran warned the USA against apprehending a supertanker carrying the Middle East country's oil and said it couldn't be clear on the ship's ultimate destination, leaving the fate of the vessel uncertain as it sailed into the Mediterranean Sea from Gibraltar, where it had been detained.

The government of Gibraltar, a United Kingdom territory, on Sunday announced it was unable to restrain the vessel's departure, as requested by the United States, due to "the differences in the sanctions regimes applicable to Iran in the European Union and the U.S.".

Gibraltar said it had been assured by Iran that the tanker wouldn't unload its cargo in Syria.

Iran had blamed the US for arranging to have its ship seized in the wake of sanctions imposed against Iran with the aim of halting all its oil exports.

It is unclear why the ship is en route to Kalamata in Greece.

The U.S. demand for its seizure is part of the U.S. President Donald Trump administration's efforts to intensify the effect of existing Western economic sanctions on both Iran and Syria. The ship is still yet to be released, with Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Abbas Mouzani disputing claims it was an act of retaliation.

This and other shipping disputes have come amid rising tensions between Iran and the West over USA sanctions and mounting military and commercial incidents in and around the Persian Gulf, which sees around one-fifth of worldwide oil shipments.

On July 19, Reuters reported, "Several diplomatic sources said the United States asked the UK to seize the vessel".

A British-flagged tanker seized in July remains in Iranian hands.

Two weeks after Grace 1 was detained, Iran retaliated by seizing a United Kingdom -flagged ship, the Stena Impero, which is still being held, reportedly at Bandar Abbas.

The Iranian oil tanker is seen here anchored in the Strait of Gibraltar, shortly before departing for Greece.

Tehran said it was ready to dispatch its naval fleet to escort the tanker - now renamed the "Adrian Darya-1" - if required.

In a last-ditch effort to stop the Adrian Darya 1's release, the US unsealed a warrant Friday to seize the supertanker and its cargo, citing violations of USA sanctions as well as money laundering and terrorism statutes.

While EU regulations still allow for companies and citizens in the bloc to trade with Iran, falling foul of US sanctions has meant most banks are unwilling to process even authorised transactions such as for food and medicine, finance sources say.

The Iranian spokesman warned Monday against any order by the U.S. Justice Department to have the renamed ship seized again.

"If such an action is taken or even if it is stated verbally and not done, it is considered a threat against the maritime security in global waters", he told a news conference on Monday.

"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.

On Thursday, a Gibraltar judge ordered the release of the Grace 1, six weeks after it was detained, rejecting a last-minute legal move by Washington demanding that the ship remain detained.