Iran has threatened the UK with “repercussions” and suggested it will seize a British vessel in retaliation for Grace 1’s detention. In response, the UK has begun offering military escorts for its tankers transiting the Strait of Hormuz. Thus far one confrontation has occurred. Britain’s Ministry of Defence has reported that its warship escorting a BP-operated tanker saw off Iranian gunboats attempting to intercept the tanker. Below is a timeline of events.
3 July: Gibraltar names Grace 1 in “Specified Ship Notice”
- The notice requires Grace 1’s detainment for up to 72 hours if the vessel enters British Gibraltar Territorial Waters (BGTW).
- Grace 1 enters BGTW just after midnight on 4 July, according to AIS data from VesselsValue, showing Grace 1 delivering a cargo at Khor Fakhan in the United Arab Emirates in late January 2019, remaining at anchor until mid-April when it was listed as “floating storage” before setting off in late May on a journey around Africa’s southern tip on its way to the Mediterranean, where it arrived laden.
4 July: Grace 1 detained in Gibraltar
- In the early morning hours, Gibraltar police and 30 of Britain’s Royal Marines board and detain the 300,600 dwt VLCC tanker Grace 1 and its cargo.
- Chief Minister of Her Majesty’s Government of Gibraltar, Fabian Picardo releases a video statement laying out what he calls the “reasonable grounds” for detaining the tanker, including the belief that the tanker was carrying its cargo of crude oil to Syria’s Baniyas Refinery, in breach of EU sanctions.
- Spain’s foreign minister Josep Borrell reportedly claims Gibraltar detained Grace 1 following a US request to Britain to seize the tanker.
- Iran summons Britain’s ambassador in Tehran over what Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi terms the “illegal seizure” of Grace 1.
5 July: Iran threatens British vessels
- Advisor to Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Khamanei tweets “If Britain does not release the Iranian oil tanker, it is the authorities’ duty to seize a British oil tanker.”
- Iran accuses the UK of acting on “the order of the US” in seizing Grace 1.
- Gibraltar releases a statement saying “There has been no political request at any time from any Government that the Gibraltar Government should act or not act, on one basis or another.”
- Gibraltar Supreme Court orders Grace 1’s detention extended by a further 14 days citing “reasonable grounds” and compliance with EU sanctions against Syria.
6 July: Tanker changes course in Gulf
- News reports highlight British-flagged tanker Pacific Voyager “veering” off course, but United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations explain the tanker was “adjusting its arrival time at the next port”.
7 July: Norwegian-owned tanker involved in May’s incidents in Fujairah returns to Iran
- After it was one of several tankers holed in incidents in the Strait of Hormuz in May, AIS data shows MR2 tanker Andrea Victory has returned, laden, to the Iranian port of Bandar Imam Khomeini.
8 July: BP oil tanker “shelters” in Middle East Gulf
- News reports claim BP Shipping-operated tanker British Heritage has “cancelled” a voyage to Iraq’s Basrah terminal to avoid sailing near to Iran’s coast, citing unnamed sources.
- Gibraltar releases a statement saying Grace 1 was detained when the vessel “freely navigated into BGTW… on a pre-arranged call for provisions and spare parts”.
- Gibraltar’s statement says it has confirmed Grace 1 is carrying a “full load of crude oil”.
9 July: UK military escort for Pacific Voyager
- Online ship data watchers spot what they believe to be a British warship or possibly two escorting British-flagged tanker Pacific Voyager on its voyage through the Strait of Hormuz.
10 July: UK military escort for British Heritage
- AIS website Marine Traffic shows BP-operated tanker British Heritage flanked by a UK warship escort approaching the Strait of Hormuz.
11 July: Iranian vessels attempt to seize British tanker
- BP-operated tanker British Heritage is reportedly approached by Iranian gunboats, which are seen off when British warship HMS Montrose turns its guns toward the boats.
13 July: UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) to send second warship to Gulf
- Already having sent HMS Montrose to the Middle East Gulf to protect commercial trade, the UK’s MoD HMS Duncan, a Type 45 destroyer, is to be deployed with the aim to be in the Gulf region by next week.
- IRNA reports the MoD and UK’s ambassador to Iran saying the vessel is replacing others and not a part of any international maritime coalition proposed by the US.
13 July: UK-Iran talks offer possibility for Grace 1’s release
- UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt tweets that the UK would facilitate the release of Grace 1 if Iran could offer assurance the vessel was not destined to deliver its cargo to Syria.
- "Just spoke to Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif. Constructive call. I reassured him our concern was destination not origin of the oil on Grace 1 and that UK would facilitate release if we received guarantees that it would not be going to Syria, following due process in [Gibraltar] courts. Was told by FM Zarif that Iran wants to resolve issue and is not seeking to escalate. Also spoke to Fabian Picardo who is doing an excellent job co-ordinating issue and shares UK perspective on the way forward.”
14 July: Clean product tanker Riah disappears from AIS tracking in Strait of Hormuz
- Riah, a 30-year old, 1,900-dwt bunkering tanker listed under UAE-based Prime Tankers disappears from AIS tracking near Larak Island, which lies in Iranian territorial waters in the Strait of Hormuz.
- The Panamanian-flagged vessel reportedly did not send a distress call, according to Emirati officials, who deny the ship is UAE-owned.
- The Iranian Foreign Ministry says Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard picked up an SOS signal from a foreign-flagged oil tanker in the Middle East Gulf and brought it to Iranian waters for repair.
18 July: IRGC claim to have seized an oil tanker in Strait of Hormuz
- Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy says it seized a ’foreign’ oil tanker on 14 July, in the Middle East Gulf with 12 crew on board, alleging that the ship was smuggling 1M litres of fuel.
18 July: Gibraltar and Iran confirm talks in London
- Gibraltar’s Chief Minister Fabian Picardo holds a meeting in London with Iranian officials to discusss Grace 1’s detention and "to seek to de-escalate" issues surrounding the detention.
19 July: Gibraltar’s Chief Minister reports on talks to UK Parliament
- Chief Minister Fabian Picardo gives a statement to parliament to summarise his meeting in London with Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif and other officials
- "We discussed with our Iranian interlocutors matters related to the detention of Grace 1," Mr Picardo said. "At every stage we emphasised the distinct nature of Gibraltar’s jurisdiction and the independence of the Supreme Court of Gibraltar as well as the importance of the due process of law being followed in a state governed by the rule of law."
19 July: Gibraltar’s Supreme Court extends Grace 1 detention
- The Government of Gibraltar released a statement saying, "a private meeting of the Supreme Court on an application by the Attorney General, the Court has extended the period of detention of the vessel, Grace 1, for a further 30 days and has set a new hearing for 15 August 2019".
19 July: Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard board British-flagged tanker
- Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard forces board MR2 product tanker Stena Impero.
- A statement from the military force said the tanker "was confiscated by the Revolutionary Guards... for failing to respect international maritime rules".
- Video posted online shows Iranian Revolutionary Guard forces rappelling from helicopters to the ship’s deck in the Strait of Hormuz.
- Audio from the moments leading up to the incident has also emerged, posted to the Twitter feed of security risk management firm Dryad Global. The VHF audio purports to feature an Iranian coast guard authority telling a British naval officer on board HMS Montrose, which is patrolling the area, "I want to inspect the ship for security reasons".
- Stena Bulk and Northern Marine Management confirm that Stena Impero is in Iranian hands:
“Stena Bulk and Northern Marine Management can confirm that at approximately 1600 BST on 19 July UK-registered vessel Stena Impero (built 2018, 49,683 dwt) was approached by unidentified small crafts and a helicopter during transit of the Strait of Hormuz while the vessel was in international waters. We are presently unable to contact the vessel which is now heading north towards Iran.
Editor’s note: this article is being updated regularly. The original article was published on 11 July 2019, following reports from the British Government that BP-operated tanker British Heritage had been approached by Iranian vessels in the Strait of Hormuz.