Iranian Official Calls for Seizure of British Tanker

Iranian IRGC swarm boats in formation (file image)

Published Jul 5, 2019 4:49 PM by The Maritime Executive

On Friday, a former leader of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) called for Iranian forces to capture a British tanker in retaliation for Gibraltar's recent seizure and detention of an Iranian-controlled VLCC.

"If the UK does not release the Iranian oil tanker, our officials are duty-bound to reciprocate and seize a British oil tanker," wrote Mohsen Rezaee, the secretary of an advisory body to Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. "Islamic Iran in its 40-year history has never initiated hostilities in any battles but has also never hesitated in responding to bullies."

Rezaee served as the commander of the IRGC during the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s, and he has run for office in multiple presidential elections as a conservative candidate (unsuccessfully). His role as secretary of Khamenei's Expediency Discernment Council is advisory in nature. 

Another ex-official, former Iranian nuclear negotiator Mahdi Mohammadi, sounded a similar note on Twitter. "The solution is not so hard. British ships pass much of the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman!" he wrote.

Tanker to be held for two weeks

On Thursday, British commandos seized an Iranian-controlled tanker carrying oil that the UK believes was intended for delivery to Syria, in violation of EU sanctions on Syrian imports and U.S. sanctions on Iranian shipping. 

The Iranian-controlled VLCC Grace 1 departed the Persian Gulf in March, then transited around the Cape of Good Hope to the Atlantic. She then made for the Mediterranean via the Strait of Gibraltar. On Thursday morning, upon a request for assistance from the government of Gibraltar, a team of 30 Royal Marines from 42 Commando roped onto the deck of the tanker when she entered the British territory's waters.

Gibraltar chief minister Fabian Picardo said that his administration has reason to believe that the Grace 1 was carrying her cargo to the Baniyas refinery in Syria; trading in petroleum with this facility is forbidden under EU sanctions on the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. A court in Gibraltar has ordered the tanker to be held for 14 days. 

Tehran described the action as “the illegal seizure of an Iranian oil tanker” and "a form of piracy."