Published: Mon, August 19, 2019
Worldwide | By Lisa Hogan

United States bid to seize Iranian tanker halts its release from Gibraltar

United States bid to seize Iranian tanker halts its release from Gibraltar

Two days ago, the Ports and Maritime Organization of Iran had said the United Kingdom soon would release the tanker after an exchange of certain documents.

Teheran retaliated by seizing a British tanker, the Stena Impero, two weeks later in the strategic Strait of Hormuz - the conduit for much of the world's crude - for breaking "international maritime rules".

The decision to release the ship was taken hours after the United States launched a separate last-minute legal move to detain the vessel and its cargo, which is owned by the National Iranian Oil Company and is worth $140m.

The Gibraltar Chronicle newspaper, quoting the court's chief justice, Anthony Dudley, said there was no USA application before the country's Supreme Court when it resumed hearings on Thursday afternoon.

The court had opened a hearing on the tanker and but delayed the proceeding to take up the US application.

The decision now essentially sets up a race between Iran and the US over the ship's fate.

But the "Gibraltar Chronicle" reported that there was no USA application before the court when the hearing resumed yesterday afternoon. The crew of the Grace 1 includes sailors from India, Pakistan and Ukraine, according to Iranian state television.

Gibraltar said on Tuesday it was seeking to de-escalate issues arising over the Iranian-owned oil tanker that was unlawfully seized last month off its coasts. A Gibraltar government spokesman said Thursday that its captain, an Indian national, and three officers had been released from detention.

Gibraltar's chief minister, Fabian Picardo, said he had received written assurances from Iran about the ship's cargo and destination, but he did not elaborate.

A court in Gibraltar will on Thursday decide whether to extend the detention of the ship which was seized on June 4.

The US had sought to seize the supertanker through legal action.

London has signed on to a US-led "freedom of navigation" coalition that Washington claims is defensive even as it packs the Gulf with military assets including a carrier strike group, bomber task force, missile batteries, and thousands of troops.

Following Thursday's decision, Iran's foreign minister said a U.S. attempt at "piracy" had failed.

Zarif added: "This piracy attempt is indicative of Trump (administration's) contempt for the law". The U.K. Foreign Office said Thursday that there was no connection between Gibraltar's enforcement of sanctions and Iran's activities near the Persian Gulf. The 18 Indians aboard the British vessel, the Stena Impero, seized by Iran are yet to be released.

On July 18, US President Donald Trump said that a US Navy ship shot down an Iranian drone, although Iran denied having lost an unmanned aircraft.

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