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Europe

Iran tanker prepares to leave Gibraltar after green light

media FILE PHOTO: Iranian oil tanker Grace 1 sits anchored after it was seized in July by British Royal Marines off the coast of the British Mediterranean territory, in the Strait of Gibraltar, southern Spain, August 15, 2019. REUTERS/Jon Nazca/File Photo

An Iranian tanker seized last month by Gibraltar is to be renamed and reflagged as it prepares to set sail after the British overseas territory said it was free to leave. The diplomatic spat between Tehran and the West risks heading back to court after a US request to halt the vessel's passage.

The Grace 1 prepared to leave Gibraltar Friday after being renamed and switched to the Iranian flag for its onward journey, a senior Iranian shipping official said.

"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," the deputy head of Iran's Ports and Maritime Organisation, Jalil Eslami, told state television.

"The ship was of Russian origin and Panama-flagged and is carrying two million barrels of Iranian oil," he added.

Gibraltar's Supreme Court ordered the tanker, which has been held by the British overseas territory since 4 July, to be released on Thursday. Gibraltar said it had received written assurances from Iran that the vessel would not head to any country subject to European Union sanctions.

Face-saving

The ship had been detained on suspicion that its cargo was destined for the Banias 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."

Uncertain fate

But the fate of the ship has since been complicated by a last-minute legal bid by the US.

Hours before the court's ruling, the Trump administration, which has waged a campaign of "maximum pressure" against Iran, launched a legal move demanding that the Gibraltar authorities extend the vessel's detention.

Gibraltar Chief Minister Fabian Picardo told BBC radio that the affair “could go back to the court, absolutely.”

“Those will be determinations made independently by those authorities and then subject to once again the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court of Gibraltar," he said of the US request.

Visa ban

Iran's foreign minister has accused Washington of attempted piracy in trying to prevent the release of the oil tanker.

The US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has warned that the crew of the supertanker could be subject to a US visa ban.

He took to Twitter to warn all mariners that if they crewed a ship affiliated to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, they would jeopardise their ability to enter the United States. “#NotWorthIt,” he said.

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 19 July. 

Tehran charged 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.

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