UK Marines board Syria-bound VLCC off Gibraltar

VLCC Grace 1 pictured is suspected of carrying crude oil to Syria in violation of EU sanctions after it was detained in Gibraltar on 4 July 2019 Credit: Getty Images

UK commandos have stormed detained very large crude carrier (VLCC) Grace 1 off Gibraltar, to prevent the vessel carrying crude oil to Syria. 

Gibraltarian authorities called for the detention of the tanker after they suspected it would be supplying the state-run Baniyas refinery, operated by the Syrian petroleum ministry’s General Corporation for Refining and Distribution of Petroleum Products. Located in the port of Tartous, Syria, it has been under EU economic blockade since 2014. 

Voyage data shows Grace 1 departing from the Arabian Gulf in early April; notably, disappearing from automatic identification system (AIS) between 7 April and reappearing near Iran’s large Kharg Island oil export terminal on 17 April. After loitering off Dubai on 20 April, it disappears again, reappearing off Fujairah shortly afterwards, where it stays for several days before embarking on a route round the horn of Africa. It is currently anchored 1.5 n miles (2.8 km) off Gibraltar’s southern tip. 

At the behest of the Gibraltar government this morning (4 July), 20 British marines were flown in from the UK. Gibraltar chief minister of the government Fabian Picardo praised 42 Commando for its swift military action. “Be assured that Gibraltar remains safe,” he stressed. “[We are] committed to the international, rules-based, legal order.” 

A statement from the office of UK Prime Minister Theresa May praised Gibraltar authorities for taking “firm action”.