The US Justice Department on Friday issued a warrant to seize and seize the Iranian oil tanker Grace 1, a day after a judge in Gibraltar issued a decision allowing the detained tanker to sail.
The United States has called for the seizure and confiscation of the tanker while it was still anchored in British-controlled Mediterranean waters on Friday, accusing it of planning to “illegally enter the US financial system to support illegal shipments from Iran to Syria of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps designated as a foreign terrorist organization”, according to the US Justice Department.
The memorandum states that the tanker and all the oil it carries in addition to $ 995,000 are subject to confiscation based on violation of the International Economic Emergency Law, bank fraud, money laundering and the status of confiscation under terrorism.
Iranian officials said earlier on Friday that the tanker was preparing to sail after a judge in Gibraltar ordered her release after six weeks of detention.
It was expected to change the name of the tanker “Grace 1” as well as flag, to raise the Iranian flag on its next trip, the naval affairs assistant at the Iranian ports organization Jalil Islami told Iranian television.
But a source told AFP that the ship was waiting for the arrival of a new crew to replace its old crew before leaving Gibraltar.
Iranian officials on Friday denied giving guarantees to the Gibraltar authorities to free an Iranian oil tanker preparing to sail, calling it a “victory” for Tehran.
The seizure of the ship with the help of a Royal Navy detachment on July 4 caused a sharp deterioration in relations between Tehran and London, while Iran responded by seizing the British-flagged oil tanker Stena Impero.
The Gibraltar High Court ordered the ship’s release on Thursday after British land authorities said it had received written assurances from Iran that Grace-1 would not go to a country under EU sanctions.
However, Iran denied that it had provided any guarantees for the ship’s release and said that the Gibraltar authorities were merely seeking to “save face”.
“Iran hasn’t given any guarantees that Grace 1 will not go to Syria in order to secure her release”, Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousawi was quoted as saying on Friday.
“The destination of the tanker wasn’t Syria”, he said.
“Even if that is the destination, it does not mean anyone else”.
Government spokesman Ali Rubaie welcomed what he said was a “victory” for Iran achieved without compromise.
“Our tanker, which was illegally detained, has been released,” Rubaie tweeted.
This victory without any guarantee is the result of strong diplomacy and a strong will to fight for the rights of a nation”.
After the comments, a spokesman for the Gibraltar government said that “the written position… confirms that the Islamic Republic of Iran has made this commitment”, noting that “the facts are stronger than the political statements we hear today”.
“The evidence spotted on Grace 1 confirms that the ship was heading for Syria”.
The vessel will be renamed Grace 1 and will fly the Iranian flag on its next voyage in the Mediterranean, Deputy Director of Iran’s Ports and Maritime Organization Jalil Islami told state television.
“At the request of the owner, Grace 1 will leave the Mediterranean after flying the flag of the Islamic Republic of Iran and renaming it Adrian Daraya during the trip”, Islami said.
He said the ship was flying the Panama flag and was loaded with 2 million barrels of Iranian oil.
Preparations are under way for the vessel to move, but it is “unlikely” to happen before Sunday, a source familiar with the file told the Gibraltar Chronicle.
He said that “six sailors, including a captain will arrive on Sunday” to board aboard, according to the same source.
The detention of the tanker was amid tension between Iran and the United States over the backing of ships in the Gulf to sabotage and attacks and the impact of Tehran’s downing of a US drone.
Hours before the Gibraltar court decision, the administration of US President Donald Trump, which launched a campaign of “extreme pressure” on Iran, finally launched a legal effort to demand that the Gibraltar authorities extend the detention of the ship.
The US request came unexpectedly at a time when an agreement between London and Tehran appeared to be coming in after weeks of diplomatic negotiations.
But the court’s decision does not prevent the United States from submitting its request for the detention of the tanker before it leaves Gibraltar’s territorial waters in the coming hours or days.
The US State Department also threatened on Thursday to ban US visas for the Iranian petroleum crew.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif wrote in a tweet on Thursday that the US attempt to “piracy” failed, saying that this shows “contempt for the Trump administration of the law”.
Relations between Tehran and Washington have been strained since Trump pulled out of a landmark 2015 nuclear deal between the major powers and Iran last year and re-imposed harsh sanctions.
After the release of Grace-1, Britain renewed its demand that Iran release the British-flagged tanker and was seized by Tehran in the Strait of Hormuz on July 19.
Tehran said Stina Impero had violated “international shipping laws” but the Iranian move was widely seen as a retaliation for Grace-1’s detention.