The U.S. has unsealed a warrant to seize an Iranian oil tanker detained in Gibraltar.
The government of Gibraltar on Sunday rejected a U.S. request to continue holding an Iranian supertanker detained more than a month ago on suspicion of attempting to breach global sanctions against Syria.
The Grace 1 was free to go and could be sailing unfettered within 48 hours, authorities said. The Gibraltar government, in a statement, cited differences between the sanctions authorized by the U.S. and those of the European Union.
“The European sanctions regime against Iran, which is applicable in Gibraltar, is much narrower than that applicable in the US,” the statement said.
The ship, containing more than 2 million gallons of Iranian light crude oil, was seized July 4 in a British Royal Navy operation off the coast of Gibraltar. The seizure aggravated fears of a conflict in the Persian Gulf, where Iran claims control of the Strait of Hormuz, a strategic waterway for oil shipments. Iran has seized Western tankers in the region on multiple occasions in the last few months.
A court in Gibraltar ordered the tanker released Thursday, setting off a flurry of diplomatic and legal efforts to keep the ship from leaving. On Friday, the U.S. Justice Department issued a warrant to seize the tanker for forfeiture, claiming the Iranians illegally used the US banking system to finance the shipment of oil to Syria.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also warned mariners against signing on to ships linked to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps or others under US sanctions.
“The maritime community should be aware that the US government intends to revoke visas held by members of such crews,” Pompeo said.
The Gibraltar government noted that the Revolutionary Guard is not a designated foreign terrorist organization in Gibraltar, the UK or in most of the EU generally, unlike in the US.
The weeks-long diplomatic dispute between Tehran and Washington comes amid a standoff between the two countries after President Donald Trump withdrew from an international nuclear accord with Tehran and reimposed sanctions. Tensions in the Persian Gulf have been on the rise since, with some European leaders unwilling to follow the U.S. lead in attempting to isolate the Persian nation.
Contributing: Kim Hjelmgaard
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