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Iranian tanker due to be set free from Gibraltar on Sunday night
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Iranian tanker sets sail from Gibraltar after US detention request rejected
The Iranian tanker caught in a standoff between Tehran and the West left Gibraltar on Sunday night, shipping data showed, hours after the British territory rejected a US request to detain the vessel further. British Royal Marines seized the tanker in Gibraltar in July on suspicion it was carrying oil to Syria, a close ally of Iran, in violation of European Union sanctions. That triggered a series of events that have heightened tensions on international oil shipping routes through the Gulf, including the seizure of the British-flagged oil tanker Stena Impero, which remains held by the Islamic Republic. Analysts had said the Iranian ship's release by Gibraltar could see the Stena Impero go free. The Grace 1, renamed the Adrian Darya 1, left anchorage off Gibraltar around 11pm, Refinitiv shipping data showed. Its destination was not immediately clear. A member of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards onboard a tanker Stena Impero as it's anchored off the Iranian port city of Bandar Abbas Credit: AFP Iran's ambassador to Britain, Hamid Baeidinejad, had written on Twitter earlier that the vessel was expected to leave on Sunday night, adding that two engineering teams had been flown to Gibraltar. The tanker's detention ended last week, but a federal court in Washington on Friday issued a warrant for the seizure of the tanker, the oil it carries and nearly $1 million. Gibraltar said on Sunday it could not comply with that request because it was bound by EU law. "The EU sanctions regime against Iran – which is applicable in Gibraltar - is much narrower than that applicable in the US," the government said in a statement. "The Gibraltar Central Authority is unable to seek an Order of the Supreme Court of Gibraltar to provide the restraining assistance required by the United States of America." Washington had attempted to detain the Grace 1 on the grounds that it had links to Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), which it has designated a terrorist organisation. US President Donald Trump said on Sunday that "Iran would like to talk," attributing the willingness to economic conditions in the country, when asked on Sunday by reporters about the status of the tanker. “Iran would like to talk but they just don’t know how to get there. They are very proud people. But their economy is crashing, crashing. “Inflation is through the roof. Their economy is doing really badly, they are not selling oil. We put the sanctions on, the oil is selling much less, much less than we thought. It’s like a trickle. “They very much want to make a deal, they just don’t know how to make a call, because they are proud people and I understand that. “But I have a feeling that things with Iran could work out, or maybe not." Iran has denied the tanker was ever headed to Syria. Tehran said it was ready to dispatch its naval fleet to escort the tanker if required. "The era of hit and run is over ... if top authorities ask the navy, we are ready to escort out tanker Adrian," Iran's navy commander, Rear Admiral Hossein Khanzadi, was quoted as saying by Mehr news agency. Earlier on Sunday, video and photographs showed the tanker flying the red, green and white flag of Iran and bearing its new name, painted in white, on the hull. Its previous name, 'Grace 1', had been painted over. Rising tensions between UK, US and Iran The initial impounding of the Grace 1 sparked a diplomatic row that escalated when Tehran seize a British-flagged oil tanker in the Gulf two weeks later. That tanker, the Stena Impero, is still detained. The two vessels have since become pawns in a bigger game, feeding into wider hostilities since the United States last year pulled out of an international agreement to curb Iran's nuclear programme, and reimposed economic sanctions. Iran has denounced US efforts to set up an international maritime security coalition in the Gulf and insisted regional countries could protect the strategic waterway and work towards signing a non-aggression pact. On a trip to Kuwait on Sunday, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said in a tweet that "Iran's proposal for Regional Dialogue Forum and non-aggression pact trumps reliance on extraneous actors". The Grace 1 had originally flown the Panamanian flag but Panama's Maritime Authority said in July that the vessel had been de-listed after an alert that indicated the ship had participated in or was linked to terrorism financing.
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US legal bid could still block release of Grace I, Gibraltar says, as Iranian tanker prepares to leave
An Iranian tanker detained in Gibraltar for breaching EU sanctions could be allowed to leave on Friday, though a last minute US legal bid to halt it could yet end up back in court, the territory's chief minister said. Gibraltar decided on Thursday to free the tanker, but did not immediately indicate when or if the ship would set sail after the United States launched a last-minute legal bid to hold it. "She is able to leave as soon as she organises the logistics necessary in order to sail a ship of that size wherever it's going next," Fabian Picardo told BBC Radio. "Could be today, could be tomorrow." Asked about the US request, he said: "Those will be determinations made purely objectively and independently by those authorities and then subject to once again the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court of Gibraltar. It could go back to the court absolutely." The US State Department said Friday that the ship was "assisting the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) by transporting oil from Iran to Syria" and threatened to sanction its crew members by revoking any US visas they held.  Iran's state television reported on Friday that the Grace I was being reflagged and preparing to set sail.  "Based on the owner's request, the oil tanker Grace 1 will depart for the Mediterranean after being reflagged under the Iranian flag and renamed Adrian Darya after preparing for the journey," the television quoted Jalil Eslami, deputy head of Iran's Ports and Maritime Organisation, as saying. "The 25-member crew will start their journey after preparations, including refuelling," Mr Eslami said. The television report did not identify the tanker's owner. The Grace 1 was seized by British Royal Marine commandos off the coast of the territory at the western mouth of the Mediterranean on July 4 on suspicion of violating European Union sanctions by taking oil to Syria, a close ally of Iran. Two weeks later, Iran seized a British-flagged tanker in the Strait of Hormuz leading into the Gulf. The two tankers have become pawns in the standoff between Iran and the West, their fate tangled up in the diplomatic differences between the EU's big powers and the United States. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif characterised the US bid to prevent the tanker from leaving as "piracy".
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Iranian tanker due to be set free from Gibraltar on Sunday night
Gibraltar on Sunday rejected the United States' latest request not to release a seized Iranian supertanker, clearing the way for the vessel to set sail after being detained last month for allegedly attempting to breach European Union sanctions on Syria. The ship was expected to leave Sunday night, according to Hamid Baeidinejad, Iran's ambassador to Britain, who issued a statement on Twitter.  The tanker's release comes amid growing tension between Iran and the West after President Donald Trump pulled Washington out of Tehran's nuclear deal with world powers over a year ago. Shortly after the tanker's detention in early July near Gibraltar - a British overseas territory - Iran seized the British-flagged oil tanker Stena Impero, which remains held by the Islamic Republic. Analysts had said the Iranian ship's release by Gibraltar could see the Stena Impero go free. Gibraltar's government said Sunday it was allowing the Iranian tanker's release because "The EU sanctions regime against Iran - which is applicable in Gibraltar - is much narrower than that applicable in the US." In a last-ditch effort to stop the release, the U.S. unsealed a warrant Friday to seize the vessel and its cargo of 2.1 million barrels of light crude oil, citing violations of U.S. sanctions as well as money laundering and terrorism statutes. U.S. officials told reporters that the oil aboard the ship was worth some $130 million and that it was destined for a designated terror organization to conduct more terrorism. The unsealed court documents argued that Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps are the ship's true owners through a network of front companies. Authorities in Gibraltar said Sunday that, unlike in the U.S., the Iran's Revolutionary Guard is not designated a terrorist organization under EU, U.K. or Gibraltar law. The Iranian ship was detained while sailing under a Panamanian flag with the name Grace 1. As of Sunday, it had been renamed the Adrian Darya 1 and had hoisted an Iranian flag. Workers were seen painting the new name on the side of the ship Saturday. Iran has not disclosed the Adrian Darya 1's intended destination and has denied it was ever sailing for Syria. The chief minister of Gibraltar, Fabian Picardo, said he had been assured in writing by the Iranian government that the tanker wouldn't unload its cargo in Syria. Baeidinejad, Iran's ambassador to Britain, said in a series of tweets that "round-the-clock efforts to carry out port formalities and deploy the full crew onto the ship" had taken place since Gibraltar lifted the vessel's detention Thursday. The Astralship shipping agency in Gibraltar, which has been hired to handle paperwork and arrange logistics for the Adrian Darya 1, had told The Associated Press that a new crew of Indian and Ukrainian nationals were replacing the sailors on board.
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