British marines seize Syria-bound oil tanker allegedly carrying Iranian crude
04 July 2019
In a move that would further escalate tensions in the Persian Gulf, British marines today seized an oil tanker in the strait of Gibraltar, suspected to be bringing Iranian oil to Syria, in the first action over violation of western sanctions against Syria.
The Grace 1 tanker, which sailed around Africa from the Gulf, was impounded in the British territory at the mouth of the Mediterranean Sea, according to reports.
The vessel was loaded with Iranian oil off the coast of Iran, although its documents say the oil is from neighbouring Iraq, Reuters reported citing shipping data.
The Gibraltar authorities seized the oil tanker under the authority of European sanctions against Syria that have been in place for years.
Observers link the seizure of the cargo with new US efforts to halt all global sales of Iranian crude.
While European countries were seen taking a neutral stance amidst a US-Iran stand-off, which saw the United States calling off air strikes against Iran last month, Tehran challenged the US with its resolve to stockpile enriched uranium banned under a nuclear deal.
In a statement, the Gibraltar government said it had reasonable grounds to believe that the Grace 1 was carrying the shipment of crude oil to the Banyas refinery in Syria.
“That refinery is the property of an entity that is subject to European Union sanctions against Syria,” Gibraltar chief minister Fabian Picardo said. “With my consent, our port and law enforcement agencies sought the assistance of the Royal Marines in carrying out this operation.”
The incident appears to be the first in which European authorities have seized a tanker for allegedly violating Syria sanctions, which have been in place since 2011.
The EU move to invoke Syria sanctions seems to be a coordinated effort with the US, which has placed sanctions on Iran, given that NATO member forces have been involved.
Iran has long been supplying Syria with oil despite sanctions. With new US sanctions on Iran itself, the sanctions seem to have been tightened sharply since May, effectively forcing Iran off of mainstream crude markets.