Gibraltar court extends detention of Iran tanker by two weeks

Gibraltar court extends detention of Iran tanker by two weeks
The detention of an Iranian supertanker, which was stopped off the coast of Gibraltar in the early hours on Thursday, will be extended by 14 more days.
3 min read
05 July, 2019
Detained supertanker Grace 1 will be held for fourteen more days [AFP/Getty]

Gibraltar's Supreme Court has ruled that a seized Iranian tanker suspected of breaching sanctions by shipping oil to Syria can be detained for 14 more days, the British territory's attorney general said Friday.

The supertanker was stopped in the early hours of Thursday, after which authorities had a 72-hour window before they had to release the ship. But the court granted them a 14-day extension.

Iran condemned the "illegal interception" of the oil tanker on Thursday and had summoned the British ambassador in protest. 

The detention of the 330 metre (1,000 feet) Grace 1 vessel comes at a sensitive time in Iran-EU ties as the bloc mulls how to respond to Tehran announcing it will breach the maximum uranium enrichment level it agreed to in a 2015 nuclear deal.

"After the illegal interception of an Iranian oil tanker in the strait of Gibraltar by the English naval force, that country's ambassador to Tehran was summoned to the foreign ministry," the ministry's spokesman Abbas Moussavi said in Tehran.

However, White House National Security Advisor John Bolton applauded the interception of the supertanker.

"Excellent news: UK has detained the supertanker Grace I laden with Iranian oil bound for Syria in violation of EU sanctions," Bolton tweeted. 

The Grace 1 tanker was halted in the early hours of Thursday by police and customs agencies in Gibraltar, a tiny overseas British territory on Spain's southern tip. They were aided by a detachment of British Royal Marines.

The ship was detained 2.5 miles (four kilometres) south of Gibraltar in what it considers British waters, although Spain, which lays claim to the territory, says they are Spanish. 

It was boarded when it slowed down in a designated area used by shipping agencies to ferry goods to vessels.

"We have reason to believe that the 'Grace 1' was carrying its shipment of crude oil to the Banyas Refinery in Syria," Gibraltar's Chief Minister Fabian Picardo said in a statement.

"That refinery is the property of an entity that is subject to European Union sanctions against Syria.

Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Borrell told reporters the vessel was detained at the request of the US.

European Union sanctions against war-torn Syria have been in force since late 2011.

The 28-member bloc has imposed sanctions on Syrian officials including government ministers over their role in the "violent repression" of civilians.

It has frozen the assets of around 70 entities and introduced an embargo on Syrian oil, investment restrictions and a freeze on Syrian central bank assets within the European Union.

According to specialised shipping trade publication Lloyd's List, which analysed vessel-tracking data, the 1997-built ship is laden with Iranian oil, the first such tanker to head for Europe since late 2018.

It reported that the ship loaded oil off Iran in April and sailed around the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa.

The tanker detention comes just days after Iran announced it would exceed the uranium enrichment limit set up as part of the 2015 deal to avoid Tehran building up to the level required for a nuclear warhead.

Iran did this in response to Washington abandoning the nuclear deal last year and hitting Iran's crucial oil exports and financial transactions with biting sanctions.

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