September 18, 2019
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US unseals warrant to seize Iranian oil tanker in Gibraltar

 The Iranian oil supertanker Grace 1 is seen in the Strait of Gibraltar, southern Spain, 15 August 2019. EPA FILE/A.CARRASCO RAGEL

The Iranian oil supertanker Grace 1 is seen in the Strait of Gibraltar, southern Spain, 15 August 2019. EPA FILE/A.CARRASCO RAGEL

By Benoit Faucon

London, Aug 17 (efe-epa).- The US launched new legal action to detain an Iranian tanker in Gibraltar that has become a symbol of tensions between Tehran and the West, unveiling a warrant to seize the ship for alleged violations of American sanctions, according to a report from Dow Jones Newswires supplied to Efe on Saturday.

In a federal warrant issued in Washington, the US Justice Department alleges the tanker, the Grace 1, used the US financial system in an attempt to send an illicit shipment of crude oil to Syria from Iran. The warrant said the shipment was meant to benefit Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, which the Trump administration designated a terrorist organization this year.

According to the warrant, the US seeks the confiscation of the vessel, its cargo of 2.1 million barrels and a sum of $995,000 in cash.

The Grace 1 had been detained in the British overseas territory of Gibraltar for over a month, seized by local authorities there and the UK's Royal Marines for allegedly carrying oil to Syria in violation of European sanctions. Gibraltar freed the vessel on Thursday, despite an attempt by the US to stop the release. Gibraltar authorities said any such request had to be made through the territory's judicial system.

A spokesman for the Gibraltar government couldn't immediately comment on the US warrant. A Gibraltar government spokesman said Iran had offered guarantees the vessel wouldn't go to Syria and therefore wouldn't breach European Union sanctions.

Iran's foreign ministry and the Iranian delegation at the United Nations in New York didn't respond to a request for comment.

The US may have time for the warrant to work through Gibraltar's legal system. The Grace 1 won't leave Gibraltar's waters until at least Monday after its Indian captain asked to be replaced, according to a Gibraltar official.

The warrant could ratchet up tensions again in the Persian Gulf, where the UK has been trying to secure the release of a British-flagged tanker, the Stena Impero, that Iran seized last month. The Grace 1's release was expected to pave the way for Iran to free the Stena Impero.

The US and Iran have steadily escalated skirmishes across the Persian Gulf this year in a conflict stemming from the American withdrawal from a nuclear deal with Tehran and reimposing sanctions.

Iran has responded this year by reducing its commitments to the nuclear deal still in effect with European countries, Russia and China and downing an American drone over the Strait of Hormuz. The US also says Iran has harassed and attacked commercial vessels in the area, which Iran denies.

The Grace 1's managers had planned to move it to Moroccan waters and hold talks with Spanish and Portuguese buyers of the cargo, according to a person familiar with the plans.

The warrant comes amid aggressive enforcement of US sanctions in international maritime waters, the Dow Jones report added.

In May, the US Department of Justice obtained the seizure a North Korean cargo ship it accused of illicit coal shipments in violation of US and United Nations sanctions after it was detained in Indonesia in April 2018.

In the past two months, Iranian vessels have been stopped in Brazil and Singapore over alleged breaches of US sanctions, though they were subsequently released.

The US State Department has warned that crew members of vessels assisting the IRGC by transporting oil from Iran may be ineligible for visas or admission to the US under the terrorism-related inadmissibility grounds. EFE-EPA

dj/sh

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