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Iran renames, reflags seized tanker as it prepares to leave Gibraltar

An Iranian tanker. (AlfvanBeem/Wikimedia Commons)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

An Iranian supertanker seized six weeks ago by Gibraltar is being renamed and reflagged as it prepares to sail after the British overseas territory said it was free to leave.

Jalil Eslami, deputy head of Iran’s Ports and Maritime Organization, said on state television on August 16 that the Grace 1, which has been held by Gibraltar since July 4, will now fly under an Iranian flag.

“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 was of Russian origin and Panama-flagged and is carrying 2 million barrels of Iranian oil,” he added.

Gibraltar Chief Minister Fabian Picardo said earlier in the day that the supertanker seized six weeks ago is free to leave as soon as it is ready, adding that the territory’s Supreme Court will weigh any U.S. effort to stop the Grace 1 from leaving.

Picardo’s August 16 comments came after the United States said the crew of the supertanker could be subject to a U.S. visa ban.

The State Department has said the Grace 1 was assisting Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), which Washington deems a terrorist organization.

“A message to all mariners – if you crew an IRGC or other FTO-affiliated ship, you jeopardize future entry to the U.S.,” Secretary Mike Pompeo said in a tweet on August 16.

Earlier reports said the Grace 1 carried 28 personnel, mainly Indian, Pakistani, and Ukrainian nationals.

The Grace 1 was detained on suspicion it was smuggling oil to Syria in breach of European Union sanctions.

Picardo on August 15 lifted the detention order after formal written assurances from Tehran that the ship will not discharge its more than 2 million barrels of oil in Syria.

“In light of the assurances we have received, there are no longer any reasonable grounds for the continued legal detention of the Grace 1 in order to ensure compliance with the EU Sanctions Regulation,” Picardo said.

After the decision by the Gibraltar authorities, Britain’s Foreign Office warned Iran to abide by the assurances it had given that led to the release of the supertanker.

It said Britain would not allow Tehran or anyone else to bypass European Union sanctions meant to punish Syria for using chemical weapons against its own people.

The decision to release the tanker came despite an attempt by Washington to seize the tanker.

“That is a matter for our independent Mutual Legal Assistance authorities, who will make an objective, legal determination of that request for separate proceedings,” said Picardo, who suggested it was still possible for the vessel to be seized again before it left Gibraltar’s territorial waters.

Iran’s foreign minister has accused Washington of attempted piracy in trying to prevent the release of the oil tanker.

“The U.S. attempted to abuse the legal system to steal our property on the high seas,” Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted. “This piracy attempt is indicative of [U.S. President Donald] Trump admin’s contempt for the law.”

On July 19, two weeks after the seizure of the Grace 1, Iran’s IRGC seized the British-flagged Stena Impero in the Persian Gulf.

Both London and Tehran have denied planning to swap the vessels.

Britain’s Foreign Office said there should be “no comparison or linkage” between the enforcement of sanctions and “Iran’s unacceptable and illegal seizure of, and attacks on, commercial shipping vessels in the Strait of Hormuz.”

The spat between Tehran and London came amid rising tensions in the Gulf after the United States last year withdrew from the 2015 deal between world powers and Tehran.

Washington has appealed to its partners to help create a maritime security mission to help safeguard shipping and other interests in the Gulf.