Iran threatens British shipping in retaliation for tanker seizure off Gibraltar

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Iran demanded on Friday that Britain immediately release an oil tanker it has detained in Gibraltar, accusing it of acting at the bidding of the United States. (AFP/MOD)
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The Grace 1 tanker halted by Gibraltar police and a detachment of British Royal Marines in the Gibraltar Strait in the early hours of July 4, 2019. Iran demanded on July 5, 2019 that Britain immediately release an oil tanker it has detained in Gibraltar, accusing it of acting at the bidding of the United States. (AFP/MOD)
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Iran demanded on Friday that Britain immediately release an oil tanker it has detained in Gibraltar, accusing it of acting at the bidding of the United States. (AFP/MOD)
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Iranian foreign ministry official said UK move of detaining an Iranian oil tanker is unnacceptable. (File/AFP)
Updated 07 July 2019
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Iran threatens British shipping in retaliation for tanker seizure off Gibraltar

  • Iranian cleric: Britain should be ‘scared’ about Tehran’s possible retaliation
  • Iran summoned the British ambassador to discuss the detained tanker

LONDON/DUBAI: An Iranian Revolutionary Guards commander threatened Friday to seize a British ship in retaliation for the capture of an Iranian supertanker in Gibraltar by Royal Marines.

“If Britain does not release the Iranian oil tanker, it is the authorities duty to seize a British oil tanker,” Mohsen Rezai said on Twitter.

Britain should be “scared” about Tehran’s possible retaliation for the capture of an Iranian supertanker by Royal Marines in Gibraltar, the Fars semi-official news agency on Saturday reported an Iranian cleric as saying.

“I am openly saying that Britain should be scared of Iran’s retaliatory measures over the illegal seizure of the Iranian oil tanker,” said Mohammad Ali Mousavi Jazayeri, a member of the powerful clerical body the Assembly of Experts.

“We have shown that we will never remain silent against bullying ...As we gave a staunch response to the American drone, the appropriate response to this illegal capture (of the tanker) will be given by Iran as well,” he said.

The Gibraltar government said the crew on board the supertanker Grace 1 were being interviewed as witnesses, not criminal suspects, in an effort to establish the nature of the cargo and its ultimate destination.

British Royal Marines abseiled onto the ship off the coast of the British territory on Thursday and seized it. They landed a helicopter on the moving vessel in pitch darkness.

The move escalates a confrontation between Iran and the West just weeks after the United States called off air strikes minutes before impact, and draws Washington's close ally into a crisis in which European powers had striven to appear neutral.

The Grace 1 tanker halted by Gibraltar police and a detachment of British Royal Marines in the Gibraltar Strait in the early hours of July 4, 2019. Iran demanded on July 5, 2019 that Britain immediately release an oil tanker it has detained in Gibraltar, accusing it of acting at the bidding of the United States. (AFP/MOD)

Gibraltar's Supreme Court ruled that the seized Iranian tanker could 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.

Tehran summoned the British ambassador on Thursday to voice “its very strong objection to the illegal and unacceptable seizure” of its ship, a move that also eliminated doubt about the ownership of the vessel.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said the crude oil cargo was from Iran. The ship’s paperwork had said the oil was from neighbouring Iraq, but tracking data reviewed by Reuters suggested it had loaded at an Iranian port.

European countries have walked a careful line since last year when the United States ignored their pleas and pulled out of a pact between Iran and world powers that gave Tehran access to global trade in return for curbs on its nuclear programme.

Over the past two months, Washington has sharply tightened sanctions against Tehran with the aim of halting its oil exports altogether. The moves have largely driven Iran from mainstream markets and forced it to find unconventional ways to sell crude.

The confrontation took on a military dimension in recent weeks, with Washington accusing Iran of attacking ships in the Gulf and Iran shooting down a US drone. President Donald Trump ordered, then cancelled, retaliatory strikes.

With nuclear diplomacy at the heart of the crisis, Iran announced this week it had amassed more fissile material than allowed under its deal, and said it would purify uranium to a higher degree than permitted from July 7.

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The Grace 1 was impounded in the British territory on the southern tip of Spain after sailing the long way around Africa from the Middle East to the mouth of the Mediterranean, a route that demonstrates the unusual steps Iran appears to be taking to try to keep some exports flowing.

The Gibraltar spokesman said the 28-member crew, who have remained on board the supertanker, were mainly Indians with some Pakistanis and Ukrainians. Police and customs officials remained on board the vessel to carry out their investigation, but the Royal Marines were no longer present.

Iran demanded on Friday that Britain immediately release an oil tanker it has detained in Gibraltar, accusing it of acting at the bidding of the United States. (AFP/MOD)

While the European Union has not followed the United States in imposing broad sanctions against Iran, it has had measures in place since 2011 that prohibit sales of oil to Syria.

Gibraltar said on Thursday it had reasonable grounds to believe the Grace 1 was carrying crude oil to the Baniyas refinery in Syria. It made no mention of the ownership of the vessel or the origin of its cargo.

Shipping experts say it may have been avoiding the more direct route through the Suez Canal, where a big tanker would typically be required to unload part of its cargo into a pipeline to cross, potentially exposing it to seizure.

If officials in Gibraltar have not fully established the nature of the cargo or the final destination, they could in the coming days ask a court for permission to hold the vessel for longer.


UK warns British ships to avoid Hormuz Strait

Updated 30 min 27 sec ago
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UK warns British ships to avoid Hormuz Strait

LONDON: London Saturday advised British ships to avoid the Strait of Hormuz for “an interim period” following Iran’s seizure of a British-flagged oil tanker.
“We remain deeply concerned about Iran’s unacceptable actions which represent a clear challenge to international freedom of navigation,” a government spokeswoman said following an overnight meeting of the government’s COBRA emergencies committee to discuss the crisis.
“We have advised UK shipping to stay out of the area for an interim period.”
She noted comments by Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt earlier that “there will be serious consequences if the situation is not resolved.”
She added that there will be further meetings over the weekend and “we remain in close contact with our international partners.”
Hunt said on Saturday that he was worried that Iran had taken a “dangerous path” after it seized a British-flagged tanker on Friday.
“Yesterday’s action in Gulf shows worrying signs Iran may be choosing a dangerous path of illegal and destabilizing behavior after Gibraltar’s LEGAL detention of oil bound for Syria,” Hunt said on Twitter.
“As I said yesterday our reaction will be considered but robust. We have been trying to find a way to resolve Grace1 issue but WILL ensure the safety of our shipping.”
The British navy seized Iran’s Grace 1 tanker in Gibraltar on July 4 on suspicion of smuggling oil to Syria in breach of European Union sanctions.
Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps said on Friday it had seized the British-flagged Swedish-owned Stena Impero in the Strait of Hormuz for breaking “international maritime rules.”
Iranian authorities alleged Saturday the ship had collided with a fishing boat. It said the tanker was now at anchor off the port of Bandar Abbas with all its crew aboard.