Royal Marines board and detain oil tanker on way to Syria

Mapping data indicates supertanker sailed from Iran - itself subject to US sanctions

Samuel Osborne
Thursday 04 July 2019 15:14 BST
Oil tanker halted off Gibraltar at US request

A detachment of Royal Marines in Gibraltar has detained an oil tanker suspected of carrying oil to Syria in breach of European Union sanctions.

The government in the British overseas territory said port and law enforcement agencies, assisted by the Royal Marines, boarded the Grace 1 supertanker on Thursday.

“We have detained the vessel and its cargo. This action arose from information giving the Gibraltar government reasonable grounds to believe that the vessel, the Grace 1, was acting in breach of EU sanctions against Syria,” said Fabian Picardo, Gibraltar’s chief minister.

“We have reason to believe that the Grace 1 was carrying its shipment of crude oil to the Banyas refinery in Syria.”

He added: “With my consent, our port and law enforcement agencies sought the assistance of the Royal Marines in carrying out this operation.”

The EU imposed sanctions on the country in 2011, shortly after Bashar al-Assad‘s brutal crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators spiralled into civil war.

Prime minister Theresa May’s official spokesperson said: “We welcome this firm action to enforce EU sanctions against the Syrian regime and commend the Gibraltarian authorities involved in successfully carrying out this morning’s operation.

“This sends a clear message that violation of the sanctions is unacceptable.”

The Foreign Office also welcomed the “firm action” by the Gibraltarian authorities.

Gibraltar detained the supertanker after a request made by the United States to Britain, Josep Borrell, Spain’s acting foreign minister, said.

Spain was looking into the seizure of the ship and how it may affect Spanish sovereignty as it appeared to have been seized in Spanish waters, Mr Borrell said.

Spain does not recognise the waters around Gibraltar as British.

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Mapping data from Refinitiv Eikon indicates the Grace 1 sailed from Iran, taking a longer route around the southern tip of Africa rather than going through Egypt’s Suez Canal.

The 300,000-tonne tanker was documented as loading fuel oil in Iraq in December, though the Iraqi port did not list it as being in port and its tracking system was switched off.

The tanker then reappeared on tracking maps near Iran’s port of Bandar Assaluyeh, fully loaded.

If its cargo was confirmed to be Iranian crude oil, its attempted delivery to Syria could also violate US sanctions on Iranian oil experts.

Iran, which has been a close ally of Mr Assad, is also under a US sanctions regime intended to bar all international sales of Iranian oil, imposed after Donald Trump withdrew Washington from the 2015 nuclear deal with Tehran.

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