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Iranian tanker ready to leave Gibraltar ‘in 24 to 48 hours,’ despite US pressure

An Iranian tanker. (AlfvanBeem/Wikimedia Commons)

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

The shipping agent for an Iranian oil supertanker says the vessel is ready to depart Gibraltar in “24 to 48 hours,” despite a last-minute effort by the United States to seize it.

Richard de la Rosa, managing director of Astralship, said on August 17 that logistical preparations are under way and that a new crew of Indian and Ukrainian nationals is expected to take command of the ship, which is carrying 2.1 million barrels of Iranian oil.

The ship was detained for over a month in Gibraltar for allegedly attempting to breach European Union sanctions on Syria.

The United States said on August 16 it had issued a warrant for the seizure of the Iranian supertanker Grace 1, one day after a judge in Gibraltar said he was allowing the detained vessel to depart.

The warrant says the tanker, 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.

The Justice Department accused the ship of scheming to “unlawfully access the U.S. financial system to support illicit shipments to Syria from Iran by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), a designated foreign terrorist organization.”

The warrant, filed in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., was addressed to “the United States Marshal’s Service and/or any other duly authorized law-enforcement officer.”

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

The ship was detained by British Royal Marines on July 4 on suspicion it was smuggling oil to Syria in breach of European Union sanctions. Tehran denied the allegations.

“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,” Jalil Eslami, deputy head of Iran’s Ports and Maritime Organization, said on state TV.

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

Prior to announcement of the warrant, the United States said the crew of the supertanker could be subject to a U.S. visa ban.

The State Department said the Grace 1 was assisting the 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.