Last-minute US intervention fails as Gibraltar frees Iran tanker

The tanker has been renamed Adrian Darya 1. Credit: Johnny Bugeja/AFP/Getty Images

With a new name painted on, the seized tanker VLCC Adrian Darya 1, formerly Grace 1, left Gibraltar bound for the Greek port of Kalamata on 19 August 2019.

The news comes despite the United States requesting the tanker’s continued detention. A US official was quoted in The Guardian newspaper on 15 August as saying that the tanker’s detention must continue as it is carrying oil from Iran to Syria, both countries under US economic blockade. “We have an interest in the disruption of both of those, both for our overarching Iran policy and our Syria policy,” the official said.

Gibraltar lifted its detention order after assurances from Iran that the tanker was bound for a different port. EU sanctions against Syria would no longer apply to the vessel, while Gibraltar’s government argued that US sanctions against Iran were not enforceable by EU authorities.

The US has since issued a warrant for the ship’s arrest, believing that the ship’s new destination in Greece suggests that oil will be transhipped to other vessels there.

The US has maintained a doctrine of “the highest level of economic sanctions” against Iran since pulling out of a UN treaty negotiated during the Obama administration to limit Iran’s nuclear refining activity.

Gibraltar detained VLCC Grace 1 in July on suspicion of carrying 2.1 million barrels of Iranian oil to Syria, another embargoed nation, in a trade worth USD140 million. The vessel was boarded by UK Royal Marines in early July. “Iran must abide by the assurances they have provided,” said a statement by the UK Foreign Office. “We will not stand by and allow Iran, or anyone, to bypass vital EU sanctions on a regime that has deployed chemical weapons against its own people.”

In what was interpreted as a like-for-like move, Iran then detained UK-flagged tanker Stena Impero. However, an Iran foreign ministry spokesman told the BBC today that there was “no connection whatsoever” between the two, and that Iran was still waiting for a court order before the ship could be released.