Gibraltar releases Iran supertanker that United States sought to seize

Gibraltar releases Iran supertanker that United States sought to seize

The U.S. alleges a scheme to unlawfully access the U.S. financial system to support shipments to Syria by Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

The U.S. obtained a warrant Friday to seize the vessel over violations of U.S. sanctions, money laundering and terrorism statutes.

The move comes just a day after a Gibraltar judge had allowed the release of the detained vessel despite USA legal attempts to withhold it.

In past weeks, the Persian Gulf region has seen six attacks on oil tankers that the United States has blamed on Iran and the downing of a U.S.surveillance drone by Iranian forces.

Tensions between Iran and the US have escalated since US President Donald Trump previous year unilaterally pulled the US out of the 2015 nuclear deal signed by Iran and other world powers.

The Justice Department noted: "A seizure warrant is merely an allegation".

There was no immediate word from Britain or Gibraltar over whether they would act on the warrant, as Iran said it was sending a new crew to pilot the tanker.

Data from Refinitiv tracking on Saturday briefly showed the Iranian tanker carrying 2.1 million tonnes of Iranian oil had changed its position status off Gibraltar to underway, but by 12:00 GMT, it said the vessel was still anchored, reported Reuters.

"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.

"Iran has given no assurances over the Grace 1 not going to Syria to secure its release", a state media website quoted foreign ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi as saying.

The Iranian super tanker Grace 1, said to be carrying 2.1 million barrels of light crude oil, was seized on July 4 in the Strait of Gibraltar as it was suspected of carrying oil to war-torn Syria in violation of European Union sanctions.

Following the Grace 1's detention on July 4, Iran seized a British-flagged vessel, the Stena Impero, which it continues to hold.

The court had delayed its decision after the Justice Department made a last-minute application to extend the detention of the oil tanker, the Gibraltar government had said earlier Thursday.

Iran has repeatedly denied that tanker's destination was Syria. It was unclear if that could happen within a 24-hour time frame as Gibraltar officials have said any request to seize the vessel would have to make its way through the territory's courts.

"We announced that Syria was not its destination and we have upheld the same. and reiterated that it was nobody's business even if it was Syria", he added.

In early July, Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Borrell said the ship was detained at the behest of the United States.

Reacting to the developments, Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif accused the U.S. of trying to "steal our property on the high seas".

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