Gibraltar's Supreme Court Allows Seized Iranian Tanker to Depart

British Royal Marines seize the Grace 1 on behalf of the government of Gibraltar, July 4 (UK MoD)

Published Aug 15, 2019 8:04 PM by The Maritime Executive

Gibraltar's Supreme Court has ordered the release of the Iranian-controlled tanker Grace 1, despite a last-minute request from the United States to seize the ship. 

British Royal Marines seized the VLCC Grace 1 on July 4 based on suspicions that the vessel was intending to carry oil to Syria, a violation of EU sanctions on the government of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. An investigation revealed that the ship's crew had plotted a full course to the oil port of Baniyas, Syria, according to investigators. However, on Thursday Gibraltar's government said that it no longer wishes to detain the vessel and has received a promise from Iran that the Grace 1 will not deliver her cargo to Syria. 

"We have only released the vessel . . . when we have been convinced that the vessel is not now going to Syria," Gibraltar's chief minister Fabian Picardo said in an interview with CNN Thursday. 

The U.S. Justice Department asked Gibraltar to extend the Grace 1's seizure, but the request did not affect Thursday's court decision. Picardo said that his administration is still looking at the U.S. request and could act on it before the Grace 1 departs.

As of Thursday night, the tanker was still anchored off Gibraltar. Hamid Baeidinejad, the Iranian ambassador to Britain, said in a social media post that preparations for her departure were under way. 

Under the terms of its constitution, the British Overseas Territory of Gibraltar ultimately relies upon the United Kingdom for decisions regarding its defense and foreign policy. In what was widely viewed as a retaliatory measure for the seizure of the Grace 1, Iranian commandos captured the British-flagged tanker Stena Impero on July 19. Despite repeated appeals by her Swedish owner, Stena Bulk, the Impero and her crew remain in detention at an anchorage off Bandar Abbas. 

On Wednesday, Stena Bulk president and CEO Erik Hanell appealed to Indian prime minister Narendra Modi for help in securing the release of the 18 Indian seafarers aboard the Impero. India's foreign ministry has asked the Iranian government to allow the crew to be repatriated, but without success.

In a statement, Stena Bulk said that Hanell has also made similar appeals to the leaders and foreign ministers of Russia, Latvia and the Philippines to aid in the release of their citizen seafarers aboard the tanker. No British nationals are among the Impero's crew.