Seized tanker Grace 1, at the centre of a diplomatic row between Iran and the West, has been released and set sail from Gibraltar’s territorial waters on 18 August after being renamed and reflagged
In a meeting with Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, Iranian president Hassan Rouhani said that if Iranian oil sanctions cut the country’s oil exports to zero, ’international waterways cannot have the same security as before’.
Iran’s foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif followed the threat with a similar message, saying that US sanctions were "threatening our shipping freedom" according to the state-run Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA).
Noting that Iran is the largest country in the Middle East Gulf region, Mr Zarif said that half of the Strait of Hormuz is under Iran’s control and that its security cannot be assured without Iran’s participation. He also said Iran could act "unpredictably" in response to the "unpredictable" actions of US president Donald Trump.
The US State Department has warned Greece, ’all ports in the Mediterranean’ and the shipping industry to steer clear of Adrian Darya 1.
A state department statement said, "We have conveyed our strong position to the Greek Government on the matter, as well as all ports in the Mediterranean that should be forewarned about facilitating this vessel.
"The Iranian regime’s tanker is transporting illicit oil to fuel the Iranian regime’s and Syrian regime’s campaigns of terror and oppression. It is important for companies, and mariners to know that any efforts to assist these tankers could be considered as providing material support to a US-designated Foreign Terrorist Organization, which has immigration and potential criminal consequences," the statement said.
19 August 2019:
After a 45-day detention, the newly named, newly Iranian flagged Adrian Darya 1 set sail and was underway from Gibraltar by 20:00 (8:00 pm) on 18 August, according to vessel tracking data from VesselsValue.
With Iran having confirmed the destination of Adrian Darya 1’s estimated US$140M cargo of 2.1M barrels of Iranian crude oil is not Syria, ship tracking websites list the vessel’s intended port of call as Kalamata, Greece.
On Friday (16 August), the US DOJ said the federal US District Court for Washington, DC, had issued a seizure warrant and forfeiture complaint for Adrian Darya I, its US$2.1M cargo of petroleum and US$995,000. Grounds for the warrant were mostly financial in nature.
"The documents allege a scheme to unlawfully access the US financial system to support illicit shipments to Syria from Iran by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, a designated foreign terrorist organisation. The scheme involves multiple parties affiliated with the IRGC, furthered by the deceptive voyages of Grace 1. A network of front companies allegedly laundered millions of dollars in support of such shipments," the DOJ statement said.
Over the weekend, a statement from the Gibraltrian Government said it had received a "supplemental" request for "mutual legal assistance" from the US Government on 16 August, "providing further information in support of its application for restraining the departure from Gibraltar of Grace 1 and its cargo of oil, in anticipation of forfeiture proceedings to be commenced in the United States".
Gibraltar said it is unable to seek an order from its Supreme Court because of differences in EU and US sanctions, namely that US sanctions define the IRGC as a terrorist organisation, while EU sanctions do not.
Iran’s official news agency IRNA reported on Monday (19 August) that IRGC commander Brigadier-General Alireza Tangsiri said Iran will consider what he calls "violations" of international maritime regulations committed by UK-registered MR2 product tanker Stena Impero, which has been impounded in an Iranian port since 19 July, ostensibly at the request of Iran’s Hormuzgan province’s Ports and Maritime Organization.
General Tangsiri said Stena Impero had "committed three violations" for review and decision by Iran’s judicial system and Ports and Maritime Organization.
Shortly after, Iran’s Foreign Ministry warned the US against attempting to detain Adrian Darya 1.
16:00, 15 August 2019:
Gibraltar’s Chief Minister released a statement in which he said Grace 1 is, legally, free to leave. Whether that means the vessel will resume transit, however, is not yet clear.
Spelling out the timeline of Grace 1’s seizure and the follow-up actions taken by the Gibraltarian Government, Chief Minister Fabian Picardo said Iran had provided ’assurance’ that the tanker would not breach EU sanctions by delivering its US$140M, 2.1M tonnes of crude oil cargo to Bashar Al-Assad’s regime in Syria.
"In light of the assurances we have received, there are no longer any reasonable grounds for the continued legal detention of the Grace 1 in order to ensure compliance with the EU Sanctions Regulation," Mr Picardo said.
"With effect from today I have therefore revoked the Specification of the Vessel," he continued. "Grace 1 is therefore now released from detention under the Sanctions Act by operation of law as confirmed this afternoon by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court."
In the same statement, Mr Picardo noted that a request submitted to Gibraltar by the US Department of Justice (DOJ) would be reviewed by government authorities. "An objective, legal determination" for separate proceedings will be made, he said.
Grace 1’s captain and crew have also reportedly been released. This publication has contacted both the US and Gibraltarian Governments for clarification on the status of the vessel, but no official clarification has yet been provided.
12:30, 15 August 2019:
Gibraltar has confirmed that the US Department of Justice is attempting to intervene in the Supreme Court of Gibraltar’s deliberation on the fate of detained tanker Grace 1.
A hearing in the Supreme Court of Gibraltar this morning heard a request from the DOJ for mutual legal assistance in its seizure attempt, according to the British Overseas Territory’s government.
According to a government spokesperson, "The US Department of Justice has applied to seize Grace 1 [based] on a number of allegations which are now being considered. The matter will return to the Supreme Court of Gibraltar at 4:00pm today."
No details on the specific allegations were offered.
Gibraltar had reportedly been poised to lift its detention on the tanker this morning, according to a report in the Gibraltar Chronicle, attributed to Gibraltar Attorney General Michael Llamas’ lawyer Joseph Triay. Grace 1’s captain and three officers have reportedly been released from arrest.
13 August 2019:
Iran’s Deputy Head of Ports and Maritime Organization (PMO) Jalil Eslami has claimed Iran and Britain have exchanged documents that may result in the release of the VLCC Grace 1 seized in Gibraltar last month.
Iran’s official news agency IRNA reported on Mr Eslami’s remarks from a press conference Tuesday.
“Britain is interested in releasing Iran’s oil tanker Grace 1," Mr Eslami reportedly said. "Following the exchange of some documents, we hope the release will take place soon.”
Gibraltarian police and 30 of Britain’s Royal Marines boarded and detained the 300,600-dwt VLCC tanker and its cargo in the early morning hours of 4 July off the coast of the British Mediterranean territory of Gibraltar on suspicion the vessel was violating EU sanctions by taking oil to Syria, which Iran denies.
“The vessel was seized based on false allegations," Mr Eslami reportedly said. "It has not been freed yet."
The UK’s Foreign Commonwealth Office provided this publication with a statement that left responsibility for detained vessel with Gibraltar.
“The investigations being conducted around Grace 1 are a matter for the Government of Gibraltar. As this is an ongoing investigation we are unable to comment further,” the statement said.
And a Gibraltarian Government spokesperson gave a single line as comment on the matter.
"We [the government of Gibraltar] continue to seek to de-escalate issues arising since the lawful detention of Grace 1," the spokesperson said.
Grace 1’s detention has been part of an escalating series of incidents affecting tanker shipping in the Middle East and, specifically, the Strait of Hormuz, over recent months.