ERBIL (Kurdistan 24) – An Iranian oil tanker that was intercepted by the UK as it headed to Syria sailed on Sunday into international waters, with its intended destination appearing to be Greece but journey’s end yet unclear.
British marine forces captured the Iranian ship, Grace 1, now renamed Adrian Darya, in early July, saying it was delivering its load of 2.1 million barrels of oil to Syria in contravention of European Union sanctions. Tehran claimed this was not the case.
However, Gibraltar’s authorities on Thursday affirmed that the ship was indeed headed for Syria, the British territory’s Chief Minister, Fabian Picardo, said in a video statement, citing an investigation into the matter during the vessel’s captivity.
On that same day, the local government lifted the detention order, according to Picardo, after receiving a written assurance from the Iranian side that the supertanker would not be disembarking in Syria. The ship awaited a new crew, which arrived on Sunday, and in the intervening time, Tehran changed the vessel’s name to Adrian Darya.
A day after Picardo’s comments, in seemingly provocative remarks, Iran’s foreign ministry spokesperson, Abbas Mousavi, denied they had made any assurances and stated that the country would disregard EU sanctions and continue to supply its close ally, the Assad-led Syrian regime, with oil.
“For the release of the Grace 1 oil tanker, Iran has not made any commitments not to send it to Syria,” he said, adding that exporting oil to Damascus “is legal and has nothing to do with any third-party country.”
He reiterated the Iranian position that the ship’s destination was never Syria but that “even if it were… it still has nothing to do with anyone.” The British government did not immediately respond to the comments.
Last week, The New York Times reported that the tanker’s new destinations were Greece and then Italy. The Times also noted that it was unclear who would purchase the oil “in defiance of American sanctions.”
Following its release from Gibraltar, a US federal court on Friday issued a warrant demanding the capture of the tanker. Gibraltar said on Sunday that it could not comply with the request, Reuters reported.
Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) on Sunday said should its government make the request, the forces would “escort” Adrian Darya with their naval forces.
The ship’s capture was the most recent issue at the center of mounting tensions between Iran and western powers, with the former’s military as well as government officials promising retaliatory action against other vessels in the Gulf.
Two weeks after the Iranian tanker was impounded, the IRGC delivered on that promise, announcing the seizure of the British-flagged Stena Impero in the Strait of Hormuz, claiming the action came for the ship’s “failure to comply with international maritime laws and regulations.”
The Iranian tanker’s release has led to speculation that Tehran could reciprocate and free the British vessel. But this is so far unclear.
The general sense of security in the strategic Gulf waters has reportedly declined as six tankers were attacked in the region in recent months amid increasing US pressure on Iran. The attacks came on two separate occasions but there has been no agreement on who was behind them.
The White House has accused Tehran and its regional non-state allies of being behind attacks but Iranian officials have denied this. In purported efforts to ensure safe passage through the area, the US has launched a naval initiative through the Strait of Hormuz.
Iran has denounced the move. The UK has agreed to participate in the mission with Israel, one of Iran’s regional arch-foes, also reportedly seeking to join the mission. Other countries are still considering their options.
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This comes after the US withdrew last year 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 nearly zero.
Tehran, from its side, has also started to reduced its commitments to portions of the nuclear deal and has announced it will continue to do so. The country’s atomic energy agency confirmed recently that their 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.
The EU signatories of the deal, Britain, France, and Germany, still say they want to uphold the agreement and have urged Iran do the same.
Editing by Nadia Riva