Iran demands UK release supertanker held in Gibraltar

Iran demands UK release supertanker held in Gibraltar
2 min read
05 July, 2019
Tehran has responded with fury at the seizure of an Iranian supertanker.
The tanker is being held off Gibraltar waters [Getty]
Iran has demanded that the UK hand over an oil tanker detained in Gibraltar, accusing the country of seizing the ship at the request of the US.

A senior foreign ministry official "described the UK move as unacceptable" in a meeting with British ambassador Rob Macaire.

He had been summoned to the foreign ministry in a formal protest at the tanker's seizure.

"[He] called for the immediate release of the oil tanker, given that it has been seized at the request of the US, based on the information currently available," the statement added.

Authorities in Gibraltar, a British overseas territory on Spain's southern tip at the western entrance to the Mediterranean, said they suspected the tanker was carrying crude to Syria in violation of EU sanctions.

"That refinery is the property of an entity that is subject to European Union sanctions against Syria" Gibraltar Chief Minister Fabian Picardo said, according to Reuters.

"With my consent, our port and law enforcement agencies sought the assistance of the Royal Marines in carrying out this operation."

On Friday, Reuters reported Gibraltar authorities saying that no marines were onboard the tanker while the crew were being treated as witnesses and not as criminals.

The holding of the 330-metre (1,000-feet) Grace 1 vessel comes at a sensitive time in Iran-EU ties as Tehran prepares to breach uranium levels set in a 2015 nuclear deal.

The vessel was halted early Thursday by police and customs agencies in Gibraltar, 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.

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

In a statement, Britain's Foreign Office said "we welcome this firm action by the Gibraltarian authorities, acting to enforce the EU Syria Sanctions regime".

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 EU.