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US moves to seize Iranian supertanker from Gibraltar

An Iranian tanker. (AlfvanBeem/Wikimedia Commons)
August 15, 2019

The United States is trying to seize an Iranian supertanker on Thursday after it was impounded in Gibraltar last month.

The U.S. Department of Justice filed a petition to the Gibraltar Supreme Court to seize the tanker, Grace 1, which was reportedly carrying two million barrels of oil and headed for Syria, an act that violated sanctions imposed by the U.S. and European Union, The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday.

“The U.S. Department of Justice has applied to seize the Grace 1 on a number of allegations which are now being considered,” a spokesman for the Gibraltar government told the WSJ.

The court will resume a hearing on the matter at 4 p.m. local time, the spokesman added.

The tanker was seized last month on July 4 by Gibraltar and the British Royal Marines when it was found to be in violation of sanctions. Iran said the oil was not on its way to Syria, but could not prove to British authorities that the oil wouldn’t end up there – a condition that would’ve enabled the tanker’s release.

Britain’s Foreign Office told CBS News that the “investigations conducted around the Grace 1 are a matter for the government of Gibraltar.”

Local Gibraltar media reports suggested that the ship was scheduled for release Thursday until the U.S. intervened.

Chief Justice Anthony Dudley of the Gibraltar Supreme Court said “the ship would have sailed” without the U.S. petition, according to the Gibraltar Chronicle on Thursday.

The Grace 1’s captain and three officers have already been released.

Tensions with Iran have already been high, and it’s unclear how they may react over the latest move.

Sanctions from the U.S. and E.U. have been mounting on Iran in response to their continued nuclear activities and support of terrorism in the region. As a result, their oil sales around the globe have been largely halted, leading to a significant decline in the value of Iran’s currency, the rial, and economically crippling the country.

Late last month, Iran lashed out when their Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) seized British oil tanker Stena Impero near the Strait of Hormuz.

Iran cited “security concerns” for seizing the tank and ordered the ship to reverse course and travel to an Iranian port for inspection.

Video showed IRGC speedboats surrounding the Stena Impero and paratroopers rappelling from a helicopter onto the tanker’s deck while shouting commands at the tanker’s crew.

Iran later released video showing some of the Stena Impero’s 23 crew members who were also detained along with the ship.

Iran has also made repeated threats to block the passage of oil tankers in the Strait of Hormuz, where most of the world’s oil passes, if they are not able to continue selling their oil.