Gibraltar’s Supreme Court has confirmed that an Iranian oil vessel is free to sail, just hours after Washington’s last-minute call to keep the vessel under detention, officials said.
The tanker seizures reveal a vast background of escalating tensions between Tehran and Washington, raising threats that a small matchstick could initiate a wildfire.
Grace 1 had been seized by the British Royal Marines off the coast of Gibraltar on July 4 for plausibly carrying Iranian crude oil to Syria which is, according to authorities is a violation of European Union sanctions on Syria.
Iran had denied the accusation and called the seizure “an act of piracy” carried out under the demand of Washington.
The tanker, which remained docked off the coast of the British territory off Spain’s southern coast into Thursday evening, has since become a reason for the escalation of tensions between Iran and the US.
The Gibraltar government on Thursday restated its assertion that the ship had been launched for Syria with $140 million worth of crude oil on board, as a breach of EU and US sanctions. The vessel’s navigation plan “showed a fully marked-out route” from the Gulf Sea to the Syrian port of Baniyas, the government claimed.
Gibraltar Chief Minister Fabian Picardo said he had met Iranian officials on July 19 in London “with a will for a de-escalation with regard to all the various problems arising from the detention of the Grace 1”.
The Supreme Court decision to release the tanker finally came on Thursday after Iran’s written guarantee that the Grace 1 would not be sailing to countries on the European Union sanctions list, after departing from the port, and therefore “the ship was no longer subject to detention”, Chief Justice Anthony Dudley said.
Gibraltar officials said a last-minute appeal from the US to extend the detention period was not considered an official request before the Supreme Court, so they went forward with the decision to release the vessel.