ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – An Iranian oil tanker that was detained by British forces off the coast of Gibraltar is expected to set sail this Sunday as a new crew arrives to command the vessel, local media reported on Friday. Meanwhile, Tehran denied reports that it had given guarantees that it would refrain from exporting oil to Syria as a condition of the release.
British marine forces captured the Iranian ship, Grace 1, in early July, saying it was delivering oil to Syria in contravention of European Union sanctions. Tehran refuted the claim and described the UK’s action as “piracy.” Two weeks later, Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) announced it had seized a British tanker in apparent retaliation.
Gibraltar authorities, who have held Grace 1 since it was captured, lifted the detention order on Thurday. The US is reportedly seeking to appeal the decision, but it is unclear if it would be successful in such an effort.
Local media agency Gibraltar Chronicles reported that the ship's relaunching would await the arrival of replacement crewmen that is set for Sunday. The destination of Grace 1 still seems to be unclear, but Tehran has claimed it is not Syria.
“We will support Syria in all areas, including oil and energy,” Iran’s foreign ministry spokesperson, Abbas Mousavi, was quoted as saying on Friday by the semi-official Tasnim news outlet. According to the agency, Mousavi's comment came in response to the question: “Did Iran give England or the Gibraltar government any guarantees for the release of Grace 1?.”
Exporting oil to Syria, he stated, “is legal and has nothing to do with any third-party country.”
“For the release of the Grace 1 oil tanker, Iran has not made any commitments not to send it to Syria,” he reiterated, adding that Iranian officials had previously stated that the destination of the ship was not Syria, but “even if it were… it still has nothing to do with anyone.”
The British government has yet to respond to the Iranian official’s taunting messages. Boris Johnson currently holds the UK premiership, having taken the post just last month after former Prime Minister Theresa May stepped down amid disputes over the country’s controversial plan to exit the EU.
Johnson’s cabinet appears to be taking an increasingly hard stance on Iran as it agreed to join a US initiative to ensure safe shipping through the Strait of Hormuz with other countries still considering entering the venture.
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The US move came amid weeks of building tensions in the strategic waterway as six tankers were attacked, though there is little agreement on who was responsible. The White House has accused Tehran of being behind attacks but Iranian officials have denied this. The IRGC has also seized two other vessels passing through the area.
The escalation has stoked worries of a possible war between Iran and the West over a year after Washington withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), and re-imposed punitive sanctions which have reduced the country’s official oil exports to near zero.
The EU signatories of the deal, Britain, France, and Germany, still say they want to uphold the agreement and expect Iran to do the same but Tehran has already reduced its commitments to portions of the deal and has announced it will continue to do so.
According to the semi-official ISNA agency, the spokesperson of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization confirmed on Tuesday that the country’s stockpile of 4.5 percent enriched uranium had reached about 370 kilograms. The limit Iran was originally allowed in the JCPOA was 300 kilograms of uranium not to exceed 3.67 percent purity.
Editing by John J. Catherine