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Gibraltar arrest two more officers over Iran oil shipment

Gibraltar police arrested two more officers from Grace 1 off the coast of Gibraltar [AFP/Getty]

Date of publication: 12 July, 2019

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Gibraltar police arrested two more officers from a seized Iranian tanker off its coast, a day after detaining the captain and chief officer.

Gibraltar police said Friday they have arrested two more officers from a seized Iranian tanker suspected of breaching EU sanctions by shipping oil to Syria.

It comes a day after a captain and chief officer were arrested off the tanker that was seized off Gibraltar's coast last week.

All four men are Indian nationals and are being questioned in connection with an "investigation of the suspected export of crude oil to the Banyas refinery in Syria", the Royal Gibraltar Police said in a statement.

Gibraltar forces and British marines boarded the ship, Grace 1, and seized it on 4 July off the coast of Gibraltar, saying they believed it to be destined for Syria to deliver oil, which is subject to European sanctions.

Tests have shown the 330 metre (1,000 feet) tanker which is capable of carrying two million barrels of oil, was "carrying a full load of crude oil", the government of Gibraltar said Monday.

Iran has condemned the detention as an "illegal interception" and said the tanker was not headed to Syria.

Meanwhile, the UK said it will bring forward a pre-planned rotation of warships in the Gulf, meaning two vessels will temporarily be deployed together near Iranian waters,

This follows Thursday's events in which armed Iranian boats tried to "impede" a UK supertanker in the Gulf before being warned off by a British warship.

Iran's Revolutionary Guards denied involvement but also cautioned both the US and UK that they would "strongly regret" the British Royal Marines' detention of the Grace 1.

Gibraltar police said the investigation was still on-going and the tanker remained detained.

Tracking data showed that the tanker made a slow trip around the southern tip of Africa before reaching the Mediterranean. It is thought to be transporting crude from Iran to the Baniyas Refinery in Syria. 

The refinery is under the control of Bashar al-Assad-linked authorities and subject to the EU's Syrian Sanctions Regime. The EU, and others, have imposed sanctions on Assad's regime over its continued crackdown against civilians. They currently target 270 people and 70 entities.

UK Foreign Minister Jeremy Hunt urged caution on Friday, despite the arrests.

"None of us are looking for a conflict and we all have a responsibility to protect shipping. This is a time for cool heads - I'm being briefed on an hourly basis as to what's going on and we want to do everything we can to make sure we don't have an unintended escalation which could be very dangerous for the world."

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