The UK will facilitate the release of the Iranian oil tanker detained by Gibraltar earlier this month if Iran gave guarantees that the crude loaded on that vessel wasn’t bound for Syria, the UK’s Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said over the weekend.
In early July, Gibraltar, assisted by Royal Marines, detained a super tanker carrying crude oil to Syria because it had “reasonable grounds” to believe that the Iranian ship Grace 1 was violating European Union sanctions against Syria.
Shipping data that Reuters has reviewed suggests that the tanker en route to Syria was loaded with Iranian oil off the Iranian coast.
If the tanker indeed loaded oil from Iran, it was not only in breach of EU sanctions on the Syrian entity owning the refinery believed to be the destination of the oil, but it also violated the U.S. sanctions on Iran’s oil exports.
Tensions between the UK and Iran quickly escalated after the seizure of the Iranian tanker, with Tehran threatening to seize a UK-flagged vessel, and last week trying to block a British-flagged oil tanker near the Strait of Hormuz.
After speaking to Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, the UK’s Foreign Secretary Hunt tweeted on Saturday:
“Just spoke to Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif. Constructive call. I reassured him our concern was destination not origin of the oil on Grace One &that UK would facilitate release if we received guarantees that it would not be going to Syria, following due process in Gib courts.”
Zarif assured Hunt that Iran wants to resolve the issue and “is not seeking to escalate,” the UK foreign secretary added.
Early on Monday, Hunt said that he was heading to Brussels “for urgent talks on how to reduce tensions with Iran. Their approach to Mid East has been profoundly destabilising but we want to reduce not raise tensions over Grace 1 and avoid a nuclearised region.”
Meanwhile, the Chief Minister of Gibraltar, Fabian Picardo, discussed the issue of the detained tanker with Hunt before Hunt spoke to the Iranian foreign minister, and said in a statement:
“I also asked that the Foreign Secretary should communicate to the Iranian authorities that Gibraltar remained determined to enforce the EU sanctions against Syria through our Court processes but that we would be prepared to facilitate the release of the detained assets to a rightful claimant if we were satisfied that we had received guarantees that it would not be going to Syria or to any entity sanctioned under the relevant EU regulations.”
By Tsvetana Paraskova for Oilprice.com