The US made a last-minute effort to seize the Iranian oil tanker arrested in Gibraltar, a diplomatic torpedo fired at efforts by the UK to defuse mounting tensions with Tehran by letting the vessel set sail.
The US Justice Department made itself part of the high-profile case on Thursday, when it requested that a Gibraltar court seize the supertanker Grace 1, a government spokesman confirmed to local media. The tiny British overseas territory in southern Spain was set to release the vessel this morning, but the US move effectively postponed the release until Thursday evening.
The Panamanian-flagged tanker was seized by the UK Royal Marines in early July, on suspicion of carrying oil to war-torn Syria in breach of EU sanctions. Iran denied the allegations, slammed the seizure as “maritime piracy” and responded by capturing British tanker Stena Impero off its own coastline.
As animosity mounted between the UK and Tehran, the Gibraltar government decided not to renew the detention order as it became convinced that Grace 1 wasn’t heading toward Syria, having received a written assurance from her captain.
Consequently, the captain of the Grace 1 and three of his officers were released from arrest in Gibraltar.
Now, the American intervention risks thwarting the reconciliation effort. Later in the day, Chief Justice Anthony Dudley made it clear that “the ship would have sailed” from Gibraltar were it not for the US request.
While the Justice Department itself has yet to comment, London has already distanced itself from the issue. The Foreign Office said the “investigations conducted around the Grace 1 are a matter for the government of Gibraltar.”