BEIRUT, LEBANON (1:00 P.M.) – Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sayyed Abbas Araqchi has rejected the United Kingdom’s claims that their oil tanker, the Grace 1, was destined for Syria, the Fars News Agency reported
“Unlike Britain’s announcement, the tanker was not bound for Syria, and the port mentioned is not capable of receiving such a tanker,” Araqchi said, speaking at a news conference this morning.
The seized tanker is a 2-million-barrel capacity very large crude carrier (VLCC), Araqchi said, adding it could not pass through the Suez Canal and that was why it had to go the extra mile through Gibraltar.
On early Thursday morning, British Royal Marines in Gibraltar stormed the Iran-operated supertanker off the coast of Gibraltar, seizing the 300,000-tonne vessel based on the accusation that it was carrying oil to Syria in possible violation of the European Union’s sanctions on the war-torn Arab country.
According to Gibraltar authorities, the 28 crewmembers, who are nationals of India, Pakistan and Ukraine, are currently staying aboard the tanker, along with local police and customs officers boarding the vessel for a period of a probe.
Iran has condemned the move as “maritime piracy” and summoned Britain’s ambassador in protest. It has vowed to employ all its political and legal capacities to secure the release of the vessel and uphold its rights.
Spain’s acting Foreign Minister Josep Borrell stated on Friday that Madrid was planning to lodge a formal complaint against the UK and was studying the circumstances and looking at how the incident is affecting its sovereignty.
Spain, which challenges the British ownership of Gibraltar, has announced the seizure was prompted by a U.S. request to Britain and appeared to have taken place in Spanish waters.
However, the British-claimed overseas territory rejected the claim, saying that Gibraltar had acted independently.
Gibraltar’s position comes as a British foreign office spokesman had welcomed the move on Thursday, describing it as a “firm action by the Gibraltarian authorities, acting to enforce the EU Syria Sanctions regime”.
The seizure of the Panama-registered Grace 1 comes as the U.S. has pledged to cut Iran’s oil exports to “zero” as part of the sanctions that it has reinstated after leaving the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran in May last year, and many analysts take London’s move as an indicator that the UK is not committed to the nuclear agreement and is much on the side of Washington in Trump’s anti-Iran maximum pressure campaign.