Seized tanker’s Iranian oil is “toxic and cannot be sold”

22 July 2019 By Paul Martin

A shipment of two tons of Iranian oil aboard a supertanker Grace 1, which was seized off the narrow straits of Gibraltar, a British territory, earlier this month, is now considered so politically and legally toxic that no law-abiding country can buy it, or even use it, says an international expert on international sanctions-busting.

“The cargo cannot be purchased or even offered for free to any county,” he said, “because it was being transported illegally.” Informed sources told that the ship had been falsely flying an Iraqi flag even though it was in fact owned by Iran. Officially, it was registered under the flag of Panama.

There are European Union (EU) sanctions in place against any oil supplies to Syria, which has been in a state of civil war for more than seven years.

The detention order holding the ship had been extended to August 15 by Gibraltar’s Chief Justice Anthony Dudley.

However the law states that the ship cannot be held longer than for 90 days in. Lawyers were uncertain if this could be extended.

A private legal action to confiscate the ship and sell it and its contents was launched by Shurat Hadin, an Israeli association of lawyers representing victims of terrorism. It is claiming to enforce a judgment delivered by an American court authorising the sezure of Iranian assets to compensate terrorism victims.

Iranian state bodies have allegedly backed terrorism in the Middle East, Latin America and Europe through their own agents and by providing training and weaponry to Hizbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in the Palestinian territories.

The US court ruling said this constituted support for terrorism. These agents and organisations have killed Israelis, Americans, Frenchmen, Bulgarians and Argentinians, according to papers presented to that court.

“We look forward to continuing to work constructively and positively with officials of the Islamic Republic of Iran to facilitate the release of the Grace 1 pursuant to the satisfaction of all legal requirements,” said Gibraltar’s chief minister Picardo.

He also met with the British Prime Minister to discuss the situation with the oil tanker, as well as issues relating to Brexit.

The British prime minister’s spokesman said: “The Prime Minister stressed the importance of Gibraltar’s independent legal process being followed and paid tribute to their efforts to implement EU Syria sanctions.”

The ship’s captain, chief officer and two second officers were arrested and bailed without charge and the investigation is continuing.

British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt offered to facilitate the release of Grace 1 – pending due process in Gibraltar’s courts – in return for guarantees from Tehran that it would not breach the sanctions against Bashar Assad’s regime.

Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called the seizure an act of “piracy” and told the UK to expect a response.

Iran has repeatedly denounced the seizure of the Grace 1 and warned that it will take retaliatory measures. A British-registered oil tanker traversing the busiest oil sea-lane in the world, through the Straits of Hormuz, between Iran and the Arabian Gulf, was seized by Iranian special forces last weekend.

Last week Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif told the BBC’s Hardtalk programme that the ship had never been bound for Syria. “We announced from the very beginning this ship was not going to Syria,” he said, without saying where it was bound.

“It was going to a place in the Mediterranean other than Syria. We made it clear.”

In comments reported by The Guardian Mr Zarif said the US was unilaterally attempting to put pressure on Iran by trying to impose an unprecedented ban all Iranian oil exports.

“The UK by confiscating our ship is helping the US in imposing its illegal oil sanctions against Iran,” he said.

In the House of Commons on Wednesday, Labour MP Tulip Siddiq asked whether the UK Government was concerned that tensions surrounding the detention of the tanker in Gibraltar could impact on the case of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a British-Iranian woman jailed in Iran over allegations of spying – an allegation she denies.

“This is primarily a matter for the Gibraltarian authorities, who are exercising a matter of law under EU sanctions,” replied Andrew Murrison, Minister of State at the British Foreign Office. “I do not believe the two cases are directly linked.

“However, we certainly need to ensure there is de-escalation in relation to our interaction with Iran, in Gibraltar and in the Gulf. When I visited Tehran recently, de-escalation was absolutely my message,” he said.

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