Seized Iranian tanker Grace 1 to be released despite US plea

The Grace 1 sits anchored off the coast of Gibraltar in July.

Gibraltar’s Supreme Court on Thursday approved the immediate release of Grace 1, an Iranian oil tanker seized off the country’s coast last month, despite eleventh-hour efforts by the United States to block it.

Charles Gomez, a lawyer who was present during the hearing, said the order for the arrest of the Grace 1 tanker was no longer valid. He added that the tanker must be released immediately.

The Gibraltar Chief Minister issued a directive that the vessel is no longer covered by EU sanctions, therefore there is no reason for the ship to be detained, Gomez said.

At an earlier hearing,Gibraltar attorney general Joseph Triay said the US Department of Justice had applied to have the ship seized.

The legal basis of the US move was not immediately clear. The US State Department referred CNN to the Department of Justice, who declined to comment.

A spokesman for Gibraltar’s attorney general separately announced that the captain of the Grace 1 and three officers would be released.

British Royal Marines and Gibraltar port and law enforcement agencies stormed the ship on July 4 under the belief that the vessel carried oil destined for Syria, which would have been in violation of European Union sanctions.

“We have reason to believe that the Grace 1 was carrying its shipment of crude oil to the Baniyas Refinery in Syria,” Spain’s acting foreign minister, Josep Borrell, said at the time, adding that the United States had asked the UK to intercept the ship. Gibraltar is an British overseas territory on the edge of southern Spain.

Iran has criticized the seizure as “illegal” and condemned the operation as “piracy,” according to a report at the time from the semi-official Tasnim news agency.

Less than two weeks later, Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) said its navy had captured a British-flagged oil tanker, Stena Impero, in the Strait of Hormuz and accused it of “violating international regulations.”

Jeremy Hunt, the UK’s then-Foreign Secretary, said in a statement that the incident showed “worrying signs Iran may be choosing a dangerous path of illegal and destabilizing behavior,” and added that the UK’s response would be “considered, but robust.” Nearly a month later, the tanker — and its crew — remain detained in Iran.

Prior to the seizures, tensions in the Persian Gulf had been steadily escalating after Iran confirmed it would stop complying with several parts of the 2015 nuclear deal, which the Trump administration withdrew from last year.

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