This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.
An Iranian supertanker sought by the United States on suspicion of being tied to a sanctioned organization has set sail for Greece hours after Gibraltar rejected a U.S. request to detain the vessel further.
Iranian authorities confirmed on August 19 that the Adrian Darya 1, formerly known as Grace 1, left anchorage off Gibraltar. Ship tracking data by Refinitiv, a global provider of financial markets data and infrastructure, showed early on August 19 that the vessel was heading to Kalamata in Greece.
“We hereby confirm that our tanker has left Gibraltar for international waters after 45 days,” Iran’s ambassador to Britain, Hamid Baeidinejad, said in an Instagram post.
Carrying about $130 million worth of light crude oil, the tanker spent a month in custody in Gibraltar over the possible breaching of EU sanctions. U.S. authorities have attempted to seize it based on its own set of restrictive measures toward Iran.
However, officials in Gibraltar on August 18 rejected a renewed U.S. request that they not release the tanker, saying in a statement that “the EU sanctions regime against Iran — which is applicable in Gibraltar — is much narrower than that applicable in the U.S.”
“The Gibraltar Central Authority is unable to seek an Order of the Supreme Court of Gibraltar to provide the restraining assistance required by the United States of America,” it added.
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Musavi said on August 19 that Tehran has warned the United States against seizing the tanker in open seas.
“Iran has given necessary warnings to American officials through its official channels… not to make such a mistake because it would have grave consequences,” Musavi told reporters at a news conference.
This and other shipping disputes have come amid rising tensions between Iran and the West over U.S. sanctions and mounting military and commercial incidents in and around the Persian Gulf, which sees around one-fifth of international oil shipments.
The Grace 1 was seized by U.K. Royal Marines forces as it entered the Mediterranean Sea on July 4, reportedly carrying over 2 million barrels of Iranian oil that some feared was bound for Syria in violation of EU sanctions.
After Gibraltar withdrew its five-week-old detention order against the Grace 1 on August 15, the U.S. Justice Department issued a warrant over its alleged connections to the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), an arm of the Iranian military that was recently designated as a foreign terrorist organization by U.S. authorities.
The U.S. warrant said the Grace 1, all of the oil aboard, and $995,000 are subject to forfeiture, citing what it called violations of the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA) and bank fraud, money-laundering, and terrorism statutes.
Iranian officials have insisted the tanker’s cargo hold of oil is not bound for Syria, which is under EU sanctions.
Shipping tensions increased with Iran’s seizure of a U.K.-flagged tanker, the Stena Impero, near the Strait of Hormuz later in July in what they suggested was a tit-for-tat move.
Musavi said on August 19 that there was no link between the two ships “whatsoever.”
“There have been two or three maritime violations made by that ship,” he said in reference to Stena Impero.
“The court is looking into it. We hope the [investigation] is completed as soon as possible and the verdict is issued,” he added.
U.S. President Donald Trump has called for an international effort to escort vessels to defend commercial shipping interests in the Persian Gulf against harassment and illegal interference, meeting with support from the United Kingdom and from some other Western and Gulf state officials.
But Iranian officials, who have routinely said the Strait of Hormuz is under their close watch, said recently that “outside presences” in the region can destabilize things.
Then on August 18, Reuters quoted the IRGC’s naval chief warning that the presence of the United States and Britain in the region “means insecurity” and seemingly suggesting its own regional coalition to provide security in the Gulf.
“The presence of America and England in this region means insecurity,” Iran’s ILNA news agency quoted IRGC naval commander Alireza Tangsiri as saying.
The U.S. Justice Department accused the Grace 1 of scheming to “unlawfully access the U.S. financial system to support illicit shipments to Syria from Iran by the [IRGC].”
Statements from Washington and Tehran have become increasingly harsh since Trump withdrew the United States last year from a deal with other world powers and Iran to exchange sanctions relief for curbs on Iran’s disputed nuclear program.