US tries new legal route to bar Grace 1’s departure from Gibraltar

Gibraltar decided yesterday to free the Grace 1 VLCC, but as of Friday morning the Iranian tanker had yet to leave the UK territory. The Gibraltar decision came as the US launched a last-minute legal bid to hold the tanker.

The Grace 1 was seized by British armed forces on July 4 on suspicion of violating European Union sanctions by taking oil to Syria. In retaliation, Iran seized a British-flagged tanker, Stena Impero, in the Strait of Hormuz on July 19.

Gibraltar’s chief minister Fabian Picardo said in a statement yesterday that the owner of the cargo on the Grace 1 has been confirmed to be the National Iranian Oil Company and the vessel has been re-flagged under the flag of Iran itself and re-insured.

As well as being reflagged, Iranian media is reporting today the ship is being renamed Adrian Darya.

Earlier this week Picardo received written assurance from the Iran that, if released, the destination of Grace 1 would not be an entity that is subject to European Union sanctions.

Picardo said the United States Department of Justice has requested that a new legal procedure for the detention of the vessel should be commenced. Gibraltar’s Mutual Legal Assistance authorities will make a legal determination of that request for separate proceedings, the chief minister said.

Maritime security consultants Ambrey warned yesterday the US move might risk an escalation of tanker tensions in the Gulf.

“Ambrey assesses there is a heightened threat to shipping in the Arabian/Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman, particularly those vessels with U.S. and/or British connections,” Ambrey warned in a note to clients yesterday on the back of Washington’s bid to keep the Grace 1 under detention.

The US State Department said yesterday it was disappointed with the decision from Gibraltar. The department has decided to revoke US visas for the predominantly Indian crewmembers who worked on the ship when it was detained and more pertinently stated yesterday it will do the same to any crew around the world found to be working on Iranian-linked vessels.

Sam Chambers

Starting out with the Informa Group in 2000 in Hong Kong, Sam Chambers became editor of Maritime Asia magazine as well as East Asia Editor for the world’s oldest newspaper, Lloyd’s List. In 2005 he pursued a freelance career and wrote for a variety of titles including taking on the role of Asia Editor at Seatrade magazine and China correspondent for Supply Chain Asia. His work has also appeared in The Economist, The New York Times, The Sunday Times and The International Herald Tribune.
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