US moves to halt release of Iranian tanker detained
The United States applied on Thursday to seize an Iranian tanker detained by Gibraltar, halting its expected release at the last minute and preventing a possible swap for a British-flagged tanker held by Iran.
The two seized tankers - an Iranian one in Gibraltar and a British one in Iran - have become pawns in the standoff between Iran and the West, with their fate tangled in the diplomatic differences between the EU’s big powers and the United States.
GIBRALTAR WAS DUE TO RELEASE THE GRACE 1 ON THURSDAY
The Iranian Grace 1 oil tanker was seized by Royal Marine commandos in a landing in darkness off the coast of the British overseas territory on July 4. Gibraltar said the tanker was suspected of selling oil to Syria in breach of European Union sanctions. Two weeks later, Iran’s Revolutionary Guards seized the British-flagged Stena Impero in the Gulf on July 19.
Gibraltar was due to release the Grace 1 on Thursday, but just hours before, the US Department of Justice sought to seize it. "The US Department of Justice has applied to seize the Grace 1 on a number of allegations which are now being considered," the government of Gibraltar said, adding the matter would return to the supreme court of Gibraltar at 1400 GMT on Thursday.
The Gibraltar Chronicle newspaper, which was first to report the news, said the court’s chief justice, Anthony Dudley, made clear that were it not for the U.S. move, "the ship would have sailed".
While both Britain and Iran deny they were planning to swap the vessels for each other, there has been widespread expectation that the Britsh-flagged ship will not be freed until the Iranian tanker is released.