The Iranian oil tanker, Grace 1, was stopped by Royal Marines on July 4 after the Gibraltar government suggested it was heading for Syria, which would breach EU sanctions. The seizure of the tanker sparked a diplomatic crisis between the UK and Iran, which escalated when Iran seized a British-flagged tanker, the Stena Impero. The Stena Impero, a Swedish-owned vessel, remains anchored in the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas, 27 days after being detained.
So why was the Grace 1 released?
Despite official denials, speculation is growing that Grace 1’s release is to be a swap for the Stena Impero.
Global seafarers’ charity Stella Maris said it hoped the release of Grace 1 might, in turn, lead to the release of the Stena Impero’s crew.
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The decision to release the tanker points to a possible resolution in the stand-off between Iran and the UK.
This is increasingly likely if Iran follows suit and releases the British vessel.
Gibraltar, a UK territory on the European mainland, has received written assurances from Iran that the ship would not discharge its cargo in Syria.
The UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office said Iran must abide by the assurances it had given that the tanker would not proceed to Syria.
What did the US do?
Tensions between the US and Iran have been deteriorating rapidly over the past year, and shortly before the release of Grace 1 was announced, the US made a last-minute plea to stop it.
They request allegedly requested to have the vessel turned over to the USA, but it has not been approved by Gibraltar.
Gibraltar’s chief justice, Anthony Dudley, said no US application was currently before the court, indicating without legal grounding, they have no authority over the vessel.
Gibraltar’s Chief Minister Fabian Picardo said in a statement that an independent legal body would make a determination on the American request.
He explained the US justice department had requested that a “new legal procedure for the detention of the vessel should be commenced”.
He said: “That is a matter for our independent Mutual Legal Assistance authorities who will make an objective, legal determination of that request for separate proceedings.”
It’s unclear whether the US has time to do this, and no official date has been set for when the vessel will be set out to sea.
Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif condemned the US attempt to stop the tanker’s release, accusing the Trump administration of attempted “piracy”.