US threat still looms as Iran tanker sets to leave Gibraltar
Iran Press TV
Fri Aug 16, 2019 06:39AM
Chief Minister of Gibraltar Fabian Picardo says Iran-operated "Grace 1" supertanker has been allowed to leave Friday but a last-minute legal bid by the US to seize the vessel could still end up back in court.
"It could go back to the court absolutely," Picardo said Friday, speaking with BBC Radio.
He said a decision on the matter would be made "objectively and independently" by related authorities and could then "be subject to once again the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court of Gibraltar".
His remarks came even as a senior Iranian shipping official said Friday the tanker, released by Gibraltar authorities after being held since July 4, is preparing to set sail into the Mediterranean.
The Grace 1 will be renamed and switch to the Iranian flag for its onward journey, the deputy head of Iran's Ports and Maritime Organisation, Jalil Eslami, said.
"At the owner's request, the Grace 1 will depart for the Mediterranean after being reflagged under the Islamic Republic of Iran's flag and renamed as Adrian Darya for the voyage," Eslami said.
The ship, the official said, was of Russian origin and Panama-flagged and was carrying two million barrels of Iranian oil.
Picardo also stressed that the vessel was free to set sail on Friday, despite the looming US plea.
"She is able to leave as soon as she organizes the logistics necessary in order to sail a ship of that size wherever it's going next," he said. "Could be today, could be tomorrow."
On Thursday, Gibraltar's Supreme Court pushed forward with the vessel's release after throwing out Washington's last-minute request to withhold the tanker.
Gibraltar had unlawfully seized the tanker last month on the US request, according to Spanish authorities as well as initial acknowledgement by the island's authorities.
Picardo said he had agreed to allow the vessel's release after receiving written assurances from Iran that the ship would not head to any country subject to European Union sanctions.
Iran's Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi, however, said Tehran had not given any assurances that the ship would not go to Syria.
"What we have announced was only the fact that the Grace 1 ship never intended to go to Syria in the first place," he said on Friday.
Tehran stressed that the issue would have still been irrelevant to other countries even if the ship had intended to go to Syria, Mousavi added.
"This is legal practice and is not related to any third party. The Islamic Republic of Iran can sell oil to any old and new customer it wills," he said, adding that "We will support Syria in all fields including oil and energy."
Ship preparing for departure
Shipping official Eslami said the vessel is refueling and preparing to leave Gibraltar. Washington threatened to impose a visa ban on the crew of the tanker.
"Crew members of vessels assisting the IRGC (Islamic Revolution Guards Corps) by transporting oil from Iran may be ineligible for visas or admission to the United States under the terrorism-related inadmissibility grounds," US State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said.
"In the case of the M/T Grace 1, we will continue to act consistent with our existing policies concerning those who provide material support to the IRGC," he added.
Many reports, including from Gibraltar, along with later statements from Spain's Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Borrell, have shown that the tanker's seizure had been ordered by Washington.
The tanker seizure took place as the US had pledged to reduce Iran's oil exports to "zero" as part of sanctions that it reinstated after leaving a multilateral 2015 nuclear deal with Iran last year.
Tensions have since further escalated between the two countries, with the US military announcing the deployment of additional military forces to the Middle East, citing unspecified "threats" from Iran.
Several oil tankers have mysteriously been targeted near the Persian Gulf region in the past months, with Washington and its ally Saudi Arabia quickly blaming Iran for the attacks.
Tehran has rejected any involvement, saying the incidents appear to be false flag operations meant to frame the Islamic Republic.
Nonetheless, Washington has used recent developments in the Hormuz Strait to call for the formation of a naval collation in the Persian Gulf. The appeal has so far been coldly received by its allies.
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