US is­sues war­rant to seize re­leased Ira­nian oil tanker

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - NATION & WORLD - By Liz Sly

BEIRUT — The global stand­off be­tween the United States and Iran took a new turn Saturday after the United States is­sued a war­rant for the seizure of an Ira­nian oil tanker de­tained in Gi­bral­tar, just hours after the ship was or­dered re­leased.

The le­gal ac­tion thrust the Grace 1 su­per­tanker into the heart of ten­sions be­tween Wash­ing­ton and Tehran a day after a dis­pute over its fate be­tween Bri­tain and Iran had ap­par­ently been resolved.

The Bri­tish navy in­ter­cepted the Grace 1 off Gi­bral­tar last month on sus­pi­cion it was de­liv­er­ing oil to Syria in vi­o­la­tion of Euro­pean Union sanc­tions. The move trig­gered the cap­ture by Iran two weeks later of a Bri­tish oil tanker in the Per­sian Gulf, ap­par­ently in re­tal­i­a­tion.

A Gi­bral­tar court or­dered the re­lease of the Grace 1 on Thurs­day after Bri­tain said it had re­ceived guar­an­tees from Tehran that the ship would not de­liver oil to Syria, prompt­ing spec­u­la­tion that Iran would re­lease the Bri­tish ship.

In­stead, the Grace 1’s de­par­ture may be de­layed as au­thor­i­ties in Gi­bral­tar con­sider whether to act on the U.S. war­rant, un­veiled late Fri­day in the U.S. Dis­trict Court for the Dis­trict of Columbia. It seeks the seizure of the ship, the for­fei­ture of the 2.1 mil­lion bar­rels of oil it is car­ry­ing, and the sum of $999,500 on the grounds that the ship­ment vi­o­lates U.S. sanc­tions against Iran as well as Syria.

The Grace 1 had been ex­pected to leave Gi­bral­tar ear­lier Fri­day, but it had al­ready been de­layed be­cause the cap­tain and five crew mem­bers re­signed, the Gi­bral­tar Chronicle re­ported. A new cap­tain and crew were ex­pected to ar­rive Sun­day, the news­pa­per said.

Richard De la Rosa, ship­ping agent for the su­per­tanker, said the new crew mem­bers were In­dian and Ukrainian na­tion­als hired by the In­dian man­agers of the ship and that his com­pany had not been in­formed about the su­per­tanker’s next des­ti­na­tion.

He said the tanker could be sail­ing away in the next “24 to 48 hours.”

An­a­lysts had said the re­lease of the Grace 1 by Gi­bral­tar could see Bri­tain’s Stena Im­pero go free.

Iran had no im­me­di­ate com­ment on the U.S. le­gal ac­tion, but Ira­nian me­dia noted that the war­rant states that it was filed Nov. 16, 2019, not Aug. 16. This “sen­sa­tional mis­take” means the United States has no au­thor­ity to seize the ship un­til Novem­ber, Iran’s English lan­guage Press TV said.

The U.S. at­tor­ney’s of­fice for the Dis­trict of Columbia did not re­spond to a query about the ap­par­ent dis­crep­ancy.

The war­rant marks the first at­tempt by the United States to in­ter­dict a ship since Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump walked away from the in­ter­na­tional deal over Iran’s nu­clear pro­gram and im­posed tough new sanc­tions. It risks fur­ther ten­sions in the Per­sian Gulf, where U.S. and Bri­tish war­ships have em­barked on pa­trols to pro­tect com­mer­cial ship­pers.

The war­rant al­leges an elab­o­rate ef­fort to dis­guise the ori­gins and des­ti­na­tion of the Grace 1’s cargo. The ship left Iran in April, turn­ing off transpon­ders while it was in Ira­nian waters and car­ry­ing forged doc­u­ments to show that the oil it was car­ry­ing came from Iraq, the doc­u­ment says.


A Gi­bral­tar court or­dered that the Ira­nian oil tanker Grace 1, above, be re­leased Thurs­day.

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