Gibraltar court extends detention of Iran tanker for 30 days

The tanker Grace 1 was seized off Gibraltar on July 4 (AFP Photo/JORGE GUERRERO)

Gibraltar (AFP) - Gibraltar's Supreme Court ruled Friday that a seized Iranian tanker suspected of breaching sanctions by shipping oil to Syria can be detained for 30 more days, the British territory's government said.

The Grace 1 supertanker, carrying 2.1 million barrels of oil, was intercepted by British Royal Marines and Gibraltar's police on July 4 as it transited through waters claimed by Gibraltar, which is located on Spain's southern tip.

An initial order by the court authorising the detention of the vessel would lapse after Friday. The order can be renewed for up to 90 days.

But Gibraltar's Supreme Court, at the request of the attorney general, extended the period of detention "for a further 30 days" and has set a new hearing on August 15, the government said in a statement.

"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," Gibraltar's Chief Minister Fabian Picardo told the territory's parliament.

Picardo said Thursday he had a "constructive and positive" meeting with Iranian officials in London aimed at defusing tensions around the detention of the tanker in the British territory's waters.

Gibraltar and US officials believed the tanker was destined for Syria to deliver oil, in violation of separate sets of EU and US sanctions.

Iran has reacted with fury to what it termed "piracy" and warned it would not let the interception go unanswered.

Last week, a British warship in the Gulf warned off armed Iranian boats that tried to stop a UK supertanker. London has since announced the deployment of two more warships to the Gulf region for the coming months.

The Gibraltar court ruling comes as tensions in the Gulf region mounted Friday after Washington said an Iranian drone was destroyed after threatening a US naval vessel at the entrance to the Strait of Hormuz.

It was believed to be the first US military engagement with Iran following a series of increasingly serious incidents.

Iran has denied losing any drones.