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

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.


Turkish earthquake triggers many unanswered questions

Search and rescue personnel work at the site of a collapsed building, after an earthquake with a magnitude of 6.8 in Elazig, Turkey, on Monday. (Reuters)
Updated 5 min 46 sec ago

Turkish earthquake triggers many unanswered questions

  • Special taxes following the 1999 earthquake became a permanent tax in 2004

JEDDAH: Rescue operations continue amidst mountains of debris in eastern Turkey, following the deadly earthquake that hit the region on Friday with a magnitude of 6.8.

The quake, which followed two others in the western city of Manisa and the capital Ankara, has killed 33 people so far in Elazig province, and four in the neighboring Malatya province, with over 1,600 injured.
The country remains poised for further trouble, with a large quake in or around Istanbul feared possible in the coming days. “We’re expecting a 7.5-magnitude earthquake in Istanbul,” Turkey’s Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu warned in a live broadcast.
Turkey, which has a history of powerful earthquakes, faced a 7.6 magnitude quake in August 1999 in the western city of Izmit, which killed over 17,000 people, while another in 2011 in eastern city of Van killed more than 500.
However, not all lessons have been learned. Now, as then, authorities have been quick to criticize people who have questioned spending of funds raised by special earthquake taxes, meant to make vulnerable areas more resistant.
Turkish prosecutors were quick to launch an investigation against Turkish actress Berna Lacin, after she shared her views on earthquake taxes on social media platform Twitter, asking: “Where are they spending all the quake taxes that have been collected so far?”
About 63 billion lira ($10.598 billion) was collected in special taxes following the 1999 earthquake, which became a permanent tax in 2004.
Turkish politician Mahmut Tanal criticized the lack of transparency over the collection and allocation of funds, saying: “The taxes are not used as promised, but they are still being collected although humanitarian assistance … is not conducted anymore.”
He suggested that funds meant for earthquake relief and damage mitigation were being channeled toward other government budgets.
Burak Bilgehan Ozpek, a political scientist at TOBB University in Ankara, was also critical of the use of earthquake funds.

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33 - people killed so far by the earthquake that rocked Elazig province and four in the neighboring Malatya province, with over 1,600 injured.

“Elazig’s reconstruction … has not been planned well by the municipality, and the result has been a disorganized city. That is the real danger. The fight against earthquakes should start first by the construction policies of municipalities,” he said.
Award-winning scientist Naci Gorur criticized Turkey’s lack of policies concerning preparation for potential earthquakes.
Gorur, who has conducted extensive research on fault lines in the country, had alerted authorities of the possibility of an earthquake in Elazig, where he is from, three months before the Jan. 24 quake struck.
Meanwhile, the natural disaster has served as a point of contention in ongoing political hostilities between the Turkish government and separatist Kurdish factions.
The pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party, claiming it had attempted to send aid to the region to assist beleaguered residents, released an official statement on Sunday, saying: “Delivery of two aid trucks … for Elazig earthquake victims has been obstructed by the Interior Ministry.
“There can be no explanation for blocking humanitarian aid to people in need. We call on the government to stop such practices at once.”
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, meanwhile, visited Malatya in the aftermath of the earthquake on Saturday.