GIBRALTAR: An Iranian tanker caught in the standoff between Tehran and the West shifted position on Friday but its anchor was still down off Gibraltar and it was unclear if it was ready to set sail, a Reuters reporter said.
Gibraltar authorities could not be reached for comment.
The Grace 1 was seized by British Royal Marines at the western mouth of the Mediterranean on July 4 on suspicion of violating European Union sanctions by taking oil to Syria, a close ally of Iran.
Gibraltar lifted the detention order on Thursday but the vessel's fate was further complicated by the United States, which made a last-ditch legal appeal to hold it.
A Reuters reporter in Gibraltar said the vessel appeared to be moving and more smoke could be seen coming from the funnel than in recent days. However it was not clear that the ship was actually leaving and it still appeared to be at anchor.
Refinitiv data did not show the vessel moving.
Gibraltar's chief minister, Fabian Picardo, said earlier that the tanker was free to leave as soon as it had organised its logistics.
"Could be today, could be tomorrow," Picardo told BBC Radio.
Washington has attempted to detain the Grace 1 on the grounds that it had links to Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, which it has designated a terrorist organization.
Asked about Washington's position, Picardo said that would be subject to the jurisdiction of Gibraltar's Supreme Court.
"It could go back to the court absolutely."
The last-minute US intervention was the latest twist in a saga that started in the early hours of July 4, when British Royal Marines abseiled onto the Grace 1 to impound the ship.
That kicked off a sequence of events that saw Tehran seize a British-flagged oil tanker in the Gulf two weeks later, heightening tension on a vital international oil shipping route.
That tanker, the Stena Impero, is still detained.
The two vessels have since become pawns in a bigger game, feeding into wider hostilities since the United States last year pulled out of an international agreement to curb Iran's nuclear programme, and reimposed economic sanctions.
Gibraltar said it had found evidence confirming the Grace 1 was carrying its cargo - 2.1 million barrels of oil - to the Baniyas refinery in Syria. Tehran denies that.
Gibraltar Chief Minister Picardo said on Thursday he had agreed to release the ship after receiving written assurances that the cargo would not go to Syria. Tehran also denied that it had made any commitments to secure the release of the tanker.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned all mariners that if they crewed a ship affiliated to the Revolutionary Guard, they would jeopardise their ability to enter the United States. "#NotWorthIt," he tweeted.
Calling the US attempt to block the tanker "piracy" and denying any commitments had been made to secure its release, Iranian officials have said Grace 1 would sail shortly after the 25-member crew made preparations including refuelling.
"Based on the owner's request, the oil tanker Grace 1 will depart for the Mediterranean after being reflagged under the Iranian flag and renamed Adrian Darya after preparing for the journey," Iranian state television quoted Jalil Eslami, deputy head of the country's Ports and Maritime Organisation, as saying.
Britain said on Thursday Iran must abide by assurances it had given that the Grace 1 tanker would not travel to Syria, and said it would not allow Iran or anyone to bypass European Union sanctions.
“We note the Government of Gibraltar has received assurances from Iran that the Grace 1 will not proceed to Syria. Iran must abide by the assurances they have provided,” a British foreign office spokesman said in a statement.
“We will not stand by and allow Iran – or anyone – to bypass vital EU sanctions on a regime that has deployed chemical weapons against its own people.”
“There is no comparison or linkage between Iran's unacceptable and illegal seizure of, and attacks on, commercial shipping vessels in the Strait of Hormuz and the enforcement of EU Syria sanctions by the Government of Gibraltar.”
A spokesman for the Stena Impero tanker, seized by Iran last month, said the situation remained the same with the Stena Impero and that the company awaited further developments from the United Kingdom and Iran.
Earlier on Thursday, the Gibraltar government confirmed earlier media reports that the US Department of Justice had sought to extend the detention of the oil tanker Grace 1, prompting the Supreme Court in the territory to adjourn a scheduled decision on whether to release the ship until later in the day.
"The UK notes the conclusion of Gibraltar’s legal proceedings and the steps Gibraltar’s authorities have taken to prevent the ship’s cargo from reaching Syria in contravention of EU Syria Sanctions."
FCO statement on Grace 1 oil tankerhttps://t.co/THS7I3hPqh
— Foreign Office (@foreignoffice) August 15, 2019
“The U.S. Department of Justice has applied to seize the Grace 1 on a number of allegations, which are now being considered,” the Gibraltar government said in a statement, adding that the matter would be reviewed by the court at 4 p.m. local time.
The Justice Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Britain’s Foreign Office said in a statement that the “investigations conducted around the Grace 1 are a matter for the government of Gibraltar” and that it could not comment further as the investigation was ongoing.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Downing Street office said that Iran was discussed during the UK leader’s meeting with Donald Trump’s national security adviser John Bolton earlier in the week, though no details were released on the talks.