US legal bid could still block release of Grace I, Gibraltar says, as Iranian tanker prepares to leave

Our Foreign Staff
Fabian Picardo, Gibraltar's chief minister, said the case of the tanker could still go back to court - AFP

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."

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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