Crude oil tanker detained in Gibraltar

British Royal Marines helped the authorities in Gibraltar to detain crude oil tanker Grace 1 (IMO 9116412) on suspicion of carrying crude oil to Syria, the Gibraltar government has said.

Gibraltar port and law enforcement agencies detained the tanker and her cargo on Thursday morning July 4th, with the help of the marines. The BBC reported that a team of about 30 marines, from 42 Commando, were flown from the UK to Gibraltar to help, at the request of the Gibraltar government. The first marines to board the Panama-flagged ship descended by rope from a helicopter, while others approached in speed boats. No shots were fired.

Iran yesterday summoned the British ambassador in Tehran to complain about what it says was an illegal seizure.

Spain’s acting foreign minister said that the seizure of the ship was at the request of the US. An Iranian foreign ministry spokesman called the actions a “form of piracy”. Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said that “the move indicated that the UK follows the hostile policies of the US, which is unacceptable for the Iranian nation and government”.

The UK was keen to suggest it was an operation led by the Gibraltar government, but it appears the intelligence came from the US. The move by the Royal Marines could be the first such interception of a vessel under EU sanctions.

EU sanctions against the Syrian government took effect in May 2011. It is not a matter for EU institutions to enforce customs law. That is a responsibility of member states. Grace 1 appeared to have sailed from Iran, and if the cargo were confirmed to be Iranian crude, its attempted delivery to Syria could also be a violation of US sanctions on Iranian oil exports.

Iran is an ally of Syrian leader Assad, and is also under a US sanctions regime that aims to bar all international sales of Iranian oi.

The Gibraltar government said it had reasonable grounds to believe that the Grace 1 was carrying its shipment of crude oil to the Banyas refinery in Syria.

Gibraltar prime minister Fabian Picardo said: “Be assured that Gibraltar remains safe, secure and committed to the international, rules-based, legal order”.

Picardo said he had written to the presidents of the European Commission and European Council to give details of the sanctions that have been enforced.

The UK Ministry of Defence said it welcomed the “firm action” by the Gibraltarian authorities.

1997-built, Panama-flagged, 156,880 gt Grace 1 is owned by Grace Tankers Ltd care of manager Iships Management Pte Ltd of Singapore.