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Iran Summons UK Envoy After Oil Tanker Seizure

By Orkhan Jalilov July 9, 2019

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Oil supertanker Grace 1 on suspicion of being carrying Iranian crude oil to Syria is seen near Gibraltar, Spain July 4, 2019. / Reuters

Iran’s Foreign Ministry has summoned British Ambassador Rob Macaire, after British forces seized an oil tanker in the Strait of Gibraltar.

Supertanker Grace 1 was boarded and impounded by Gibraltar police and customs agencies, aided by a detachment of British Royal Marines, on July 4 at the request of the United States, on suspicion of carrying Iranian crude oil to Syria, in breach of EU sanctions.

A court in Gibraltar has ruled that the ship can be detained for 14 days. Authorities said there was reason to believe the ship was carrying Iranian crude oil to the Baniyas Refinery in the Syrian Mediterranean port town of Tartous.

Iran's foreign ministry condemned the seizure of the vessel as illegal, and accused the United Kingdom of acting at the behest of the U.S. Meanwhile, the U.K. foreign office dismissed claims of piracy as "nonsense".

Later in the day, Iran's foreign ministry spokesman, Abbas Moussavi, spoke to the state-run IRINN TV, saying “We declared to the ambassador that this move amounts to strange unconventionality, because the sanctions that they have announced are not based on the Security Council [resolutions] and the Islamic Republic of Iran does not accept this measure (seizure of the tanker).”

He went on to say that Spain’s foreign ministry has confirmed that the move was made at the request of the U.S., and that the seizure amounted to, “implementation of a type of extraterritorial sanctions despite the fact that the European Union has invariably been against such bans.”

The U.S. has pledged to reduce Iran’s oil exports to zero as part of a sanctions package that was reinstated last year, after President Donald Trump pulled the country out from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, better known as the nuclear deal, in May 2018.

Spain does not recognize the waters around the Strait of Gibraltar as belonging to the British.

“Spain was looking into the seizure of the ship, suspected of carrying crude oil to Syria, and how it may affect Spanish sovereignty as it appears to have happened in Spanish waters,” acting Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Borrell was quoted by Reuters as saying.

The secretary of Iran’s Expediency Council and former Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps Major General Mohsen Rezaei has threatened to seize a British oil tanker.

“If Britain does not release the Iranian oil tanker, it is the authorities’ duty to make a reciprocal move and seize a British oil tanker,” Rezaei posted to his Twitter account.

The Baniyas Refinery, where the tanker was believed to be taking the oil, is part of Syria’s ministry of petroleum. The refinery has been subject to EU sanctions since 2014.

In May, restrictive measures against Syria by the EU were extended until June 1, 2020, affecting the refinery, which is said to help benefit the Syrian government.