The Gibraltar government said in a statement on Thursday that “the US Department of Justice has applied to seize the [Iranian tanker] Grace 1 on a number of allegations which are now being considered”.
The statement pointed out that “the matter will return to the Supreme Court of Gibraltar at 4 p.m.”
This comes after the Gibraltar Chronicle newspaper reported on its Twitter page that the US Department of Justice had applied to seize the Grace 1, “just hours before the Gibraltar Government was poised to release it. The newspaper added that it was Gibraltarian lawyer Joseph Triay who revealed the developments.
“This application was to have taken a very different turn. It was to have been an application for no further order of detention,” Triay pointed out.
The captain and three officers of the Grace 1 have been released from arrest, the #Gibraltar Givernment has confirmed in response to Chronicle questions.— Gibraltar Chronicle (@GibChronicle) August 15, 2019
The US Department of Justice has applied to seize the Iranian supertanker Grace 1 in #Gibraltar, just hours before the Gibraltar Government was poised to release it.— Gibraltar Chronicle (@GibChronicle) August 15, 2019
Commenting on the issue, a source in the Gibraltar government told the newspaper that a captain and three crew members from the Iranian tanker have already been released.
The Gibraltar Chronicle also quoted Gibraltar Supreme Court Chief Anthony Dudley as saying that if it hasn’t been for the US application, “the [Grace 1] ship would have sailed.” The US has yet to comment on the matter.
The developments come after The Sun reported on Wednesday that Gibraltar’s Chief Minister Fabian Picardo will not apply to renew the order to detain the Grace 1 and that the tanker was due to be released later that day.
“There is no reason to keep Grace 1 in Gibraltar a moment longer if we no longer believe it is in breach of sanctions against the Syrian regime. That is now the case, so you can expect to see her on her way tomorrow,” The Sun cited an unnamed source close to Picardo as saying.
Seizure of Iranian Tanker Grace 1 Near Gibraltar
The Iranian tanker was detained by the Gibraltar law enforcement, which was supported by UK marines on 4 July, on suspicions of transporting oil to Syria in violation of EU sanctions. Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif slammed the seizure as an act of "pure piracy" which he said "sets a dangerous precedent".
The seizure was followed by Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps seizing the UK-flagged Stena Impero tanker in the Gulf over the vessel’s alleged violation of maritime rules.
The vessel seizures came amid increasing tensions in the Persian Gulf after a previous series of incidents also involving oil tankers. In May, four such vessels were targeted in sabotage attacks off the United Arab Emirates' coast. In June, two more oil tankers were hit by explosions in the Strait of Hormuz, which connects the Gulf of Oman with the Persian Gulf.
Washington blamed Tehran for the incidents and started building up its military presence in the Gulf. Tehran has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.