Iranian oil tanker departs Gibraltar after US request rebuffed

Oil tanker at centre of major diplomatic dispute departs Gibraltar after court rejects US request to extend detention.

The supertanker was detained by the UK on July 4 after being suspected of heading to Syria [Marcos Moreno/AP]

The Iranian oil tanker at the centre of a diplomatic dispute has departed from Gibraltar after the British overseas territory rejected a last-minute request from the United States to extend detention of the vessel.

According to monitoring website Marine Traffic, the supertanker lifted anchor on Sunday evening before 23:00 GMT. The tracking site showed the vessel moving east into the Mediterranean and listed Kalamata in Greece as the destination.

The tanker had been detained off the coast of Gibraltar by authorities in the territory since July 4, when British Royal Marines seized the vessel on suspicion it was carrying oil to Syria, a close ally of Iran, in violation of European Union sanctions. Iran has denied the tanker was ever headed to Syria.

The ship, now renamed Adrian Darya 1, was previously known as Grace 1. It has a cargo of at least $130m worth of light crude oil.

Its seizure led to heightened tensions on international oil shipping routes through the Gulf, including Iran’s seizure of a British-flagged tanker – the Stena Impero – on July 19 in the Strait of Hormuz for alleged marine violations.

On Monday, a senior Iranian lawmaker was quoted as saying that the crisis in Iran’s ties with Britain would not be over until the tanker reached its destination.

“Until the Iranian oil tanker arrives at its destination the British must help end the crisis,” Heshmatollah Falahatpisheh, a member of parliament’s national security and foreign affairs committee, was quoted as saying by the semi-official ISNA news agency.

“This means that the crisis with Britain is not over. Britain has the primary responsibility for ending the oil tanker crisis,” Falahatpisheh said.

‘Destination unknown’

Al Jazeera’s Andrew Simmons, reporting from Gibraltar, said the ship has left and is “heading east and is about to join the international shipping lanes in the Strait of Gibraltar”.

“The destination is unknown. It just says on the transponder: Mediterranean. That appears to fit with the tracking so far.”

He also reported hearing radio communication from authorities in Gibraltar and the ship confirming its departure.

“This had been a long affair. We saw the loading of supplies several hours before the evening,” Simmons said.

“It is now complying with international maritime law having been reflagged and renamed on all parts of this vessel.”

On Thursday, Gibraltar’s Supreme Court ordered the release of the vessel after more than 40 days in detention.

The decision came after Gibraltar’s government said it had received written assurances from Iran that the ship would not be headed for countries “subject to European Union sanctions”.

US-Iran tensions

That detention ended last week, but on Friday a US court issued a warrant for the seizure of the tanker, on the grounds that it had links to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), which Washington has designated a “terrorist” organisation.

Gibraltar’s government said on Sunday it could not comply with the US request because of European law.

“The Central Authority’s inability to seek the Orders requested is a result of the operation of  European Union law and the differences in the sanctions regimes applicable to Iran in the EU and the US,” the government said in a statement.

“The EU sanctions regime against Iran – which is applicable in Gibraltar – is much narrower than that applicable in the US.”

Iran on Monday warned the US against any fresh attempt to seize the tanker in open seas after it left Gibraltar.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi told reporters at a press conference that any such move “would endanger shipping safety” and have “grave consequences”.

“We have issued a warning through official channels, especially the Swiss embassy,” he added.

The spat over the  Adrian Darya 1 and Stena Impero erupted amid wider hostilities between the United States and Iran after US President Donald Trump last year unilaterally pulled out of an international agreement to curb Iran’s nuclear programme, and reimposed punishing economic sanctions on the Islamic Republic.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies