Iranian oil tanker detained by Royal Marines in Gibraltar

Iranian oil tanker detained by Royal Marines in Gibraltar
By bne IntelliNews July 4, 2019

British Royal Marines have surrounded and detained the Panamanian-flagged supertanker The Grace 1 on suspicion of carrying oil to Syria’s Banyas port, the Gibraltar government said early on July 4.

The tanker is now alleged to be carrying $100mn of fuel oil and not crude oil as previously said by the British overseas territory, said reviewing the ships’ activity from past movements.  

The service notes that The Grace 1 was also not likely heading to Syria’s Banyas port due to its weight and was likely headed offshore to offload its fuel oil which “powers vessel engines.”

“Based on all the imagery we spent weeks reviewing, we could not see her loading crude oil. She has a history of handling STS transfers of FUEL OIL. We believe she was due to do the same in Syria’s waters. Fuel oil powers vessel engines. It’s heavier than crude oil. She is heavy,” the tracking service reported on July 4.

The service goes on to pour cold water on the notion the tanker was headed for Syria's Banyas port, however, it doesn't state another potential destination.

“In conclusion, if in fact she is fully laden with fuel oil for STS (Ship-to-Ship) transfers off the coast of Syria, then the destination wouldn’t be Syria, but most likely Europe. Fuel oil is a refined product and will not contain chemical signatures that can trace it back to Iran.”

Meanwhile, the report by the Gibraltarian government reads as: “In the early hours of this morning, Gibraltar Port and Law Enforcement agencies, assisted by a detachment of Royal Marines, boarded a supertanker carrying crude oil to Syria.” the notice said, “We have detained the vessel and its cargo,” it added.

“This action arose from information giving the Gibraltar Government reasonable grounds to believe that the vessel, the Grace 1, was acting in breach of European Union sanctions against Syria,” the official report reads.

The UK-controlled territory said it was understood that the Grace 1 was carrying its shipment of crude oil to the Banyas Refinery in Syria. It added the Syrian refinery was under European Union sanctions as part of a wider sanctions campaign against the Al-Assad government.

The UK’s movement under the guise of EU sanctions follows other recent events where Iranian boats were moored at ports beyond its control. The other recent case is that of the Happiness I, which allegedly broke down in the Red Sea, and was moored outside Jeddah in Saudi Arabia.

Ambassador summoned 

Iran summoned the British ambassador in Tehran Rob Macaire over the “illegal seizure”, demanding answers for the latest assault on its assets, the Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said,  IRNA reported.

Britain’s Foreign Office had no immediate response to requests for information from international media.

Following the international incident, Spain’s acting foreign minister said the tanker was seized “upon a request by the US to Britain”, according to IRNA’s Persian language report.

The deputy director of the Spanish foreign ministry, Joebe Borrell, said the seizure of the tanker from Iran came after the US "had submitted a request to England."

The situation over the fully-laden Grace 1 includes Spain as it does not accept the UK’s sovereignty over Gibraltar. Borrell said that the Spanish government had been kept informed about the seizure, and would study whether it violated its territorial water claims. 

“We’re looking at which way this affects our sovereignty, in as far as it took place in waters whose sovereignty we understand to belong to Spain,” Borrell said, Europa Press news agency reported.