Tehran fumes as Britain seizes Iranian oil tanker over Syria sanctions
05 Jul 2019

British Royal Marines seized a giant Iranian oil tanker in Gibraltar on Thursday for trying to take oil to Syria in violation of EU sanctions, a dramatic step that drew Tehran’s fury and could escalate its confrontation with the West.

The Grace 1 tanker was impounded in the British territory on the southern tip of Spain after sailing around Africa, the long route from the Middle East to the mouth of the Mediterranean.

Iran’s Foreign Ministry summoned the British ambassador to voice “its very strong objection to the illegal and unacceptable seizure” of its ship. The diplomatic gesture lifted any doubt over Iran’s ownership of the vessel, which flies a Panama flag and is listed as managed by a company in Singapore.

Shipping data reviewed by Reuters suggests the tanker was carrying Iranian oil loaded off the coast of Iran, although its documents say the oil is from neighboring Iraq.

While Europe has banned oil shipments to Syria since 2011, it had never seized a tanker at sea. Unlike the United States, Europe does not have broad sanctions against Iran.

“This is the first time that the EU has done something so public and so aggressive. I imagine it was also coordinated in some manner with the U.S. given that NATO member forces have been involved,” said Matthew Oresman, a partner with law firm Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman who advises firms on sanctions.

“This is likely to have been meant as a signal to Syria and Iran – as well as the U.S. – that Europe takes sanctions enforcement seriously and that the EU can also respond to Iranian brinkmanship related to ongoing nuclear negotiations.”

Authorities in Gibraltar made no reference to the source of the oil or the ownership of the ship when they seized it.

But Iran’s acknowledgment that it owned the ship, and the likelihood that its cargo was also Iranian, drew a link between the incident and a new U.S. effort to halt all global sales of Iranian crude. Iran describes that as an illegal “economic war”.

By Jonathan Saul and Parisa Hafezi, Reuters, 4 July 2019

Read more at Reuters

Photo: LA(Phot) Martin Carney/MOD [OGL v1.0], via Wikimedia Commons

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