Grace 1 Signals New Destination Then Reverts
Maritime security company Dryad Global reports that the detained VLCC Grace 1 signaled a new destination of Morocco at 1340 UTC on August 12, and then at 1352 UTC she removed the update and reverted the entry back to its original.
The Grace 1 has been detained in waters off Gibraltar since her arrest by the U.K. on July 4, under suspicion of violating E.U. sanctions and transferring oil to Syria. The U.K. has said that the Grace 1 would be released if Iran could provide assurance that she will not deliver her cargo to Syria. Rather, Iran's military seized the Panama-flagged tanker Riah on July 15 and the U.K.-flagged Stena Impero and her 23 crewmen on July 19.
“The recent change in destination signal by the Grace 1 is highly unexpected, given both the current un-flagged status of the vessel and the complexities surrounding the future of its cargo of 2.1 million barrels of light Iranian crude,” states Dryad. “However, it should be noted that the entry of a new destination within the vessel AIS system is a deliberate act and may provide an insight into what may be occurring behind the scenes of the Grace 1.”
The detention of the Grace 1, and the subsequent standoff with Iran, is set against the backdrop of an increasingly complex domestic political agenda within the U.K. The recently appointed U.K. Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab, has stated that there would be no negotiation and vessel swap with Iran and has denied allegations of third party involvement in mediation. As such, says Dryad, it is more likely that if the vessel is released, it would be in anticipation of a time when the subsequent and reciprocal release of the Stena Impero would be in Iran's national interest.
The U.K. and the U.S. are poised to take military action under the auspices of Operation Sentinel, a move the E.U. opposes. “Should the Grace 1 be released, it is highly likely that this will occur within the broader context of domestic political pressures within the U.K. and could be seen as an attempt to reduce the number of foreign policy factors the U.K. has to contend with whilst rapidly ensuring a delivery of the U.K. governments Brexit proposals,” says Dryad. “It is highly possible that behind the scenes, the bite of realpolitik has resulted in a need to remove the issue of the Grace 1 from the U.K. political agenda, in advance of a potential general election. In doing so, the UK also creates a degree of breathing space wherein it can allow itself to not necessarily take a firm position on military action alongside the U.S.”
However, any release of the Grace 1 without a concurrent Iranian action or public statement adhering to British proposals would indicate a foreign policy failure for the U.K. and would result in a loss of face within the Middle East. “From a British perspective, the run up to Brexit is a ‘good period to bury bad news,’ and the potential release of the Grace 1 certainly falls into this category.”
The release of the Grace 1 would reduce the risk to U.K.-flagged vessels sailing in the Persian Gulf, in the short term, but Iran would still likely want to assert its influence within the Strait of Hormuz, and the potential for other vessels to be temporarily be detained in Iranian waters would persist.
Dryad recommends that vessels ensure that navigation and position data is cross referenced with reliable incorruptible means and that they refrain from using unarmed security advisors when sailing through the Strait of Hormuz, as this is likely to be seen by Iran as an antagonistic and escalatory measure.