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Gibraltar government releases detained Iranian oil tanker

Highlights

Iran assures Grace 1 will not sail to Syria

US in legal bid to seize tanker

UK-flagged tanker Stena Impero still held by Iran

London — The Gibraltar government has released the Iranian supertanker Grace 1, it said Thursday, after receiving assurances from Iran that the tanker would not deliver crude to Syria.

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Gibraltar Chief Minister Fabian Picardo confirmed the release after a hearing of the British territory's Supreme Court. The tanker had been held for seven weeks on suspicion of taking crude to Syria.

Picardo said he had received assurance from Iran that the Grace 1 would not now sail to "an entity that is subject to European Union sanctions."

Gibraltar authorities had accused the tanker of taking oil to the Baniyas refinery in Syria.

The US has however made a legal bid to seize the VLCC further escalating US-Iran tensions.

"Separately, the United States Department of Justice has requested that a new legal procedure for the detentionof the vessel should be commenced," Picardo said.

However it remains unclear where the US could carry out the arrest if the Grace 1 departs from European waters.

Representatives at the US DOJ did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

TANKER ROW

UK armed forces boarded Grace 1 in Gibraltar's waters on July 4 and it has been in detention since then. Gibraltar's government said the tanker had been heading for Syria's Baniyas refinery with a cargo of Iranian oil. Subsequent testing showed it was carrying about 2.1 million barrels of light crude.

Iran denied that allegation, and senior officials suggested a British tanker should be seized in response.

On July 19, Iranian forces detained the UK-flagged tanker Stena Impero as it passed through the Strait of Hormuz.

The release of Grace 1 may help defuse tensions in the region, but it remains unclear whether the Stena Impero will be released in return.

Picardo also said Grace 1 had been reinsured and reflagged from Panama to Iran.

"In the weeks that followed, we have continued to have constructive discussions with representatives of the Republic of Iran to facilitate the release of Grace 1 pursuant to the satisfaction of all legal requirements," he added.

The UK government previously said it will not consider releasing the tanker seized at Gibraltar in return for the Iranian authorities freeing the UK-flagged ship.

Iran's ambassador to the UK Hamid Baeidinejad confirmed the release of Grace 1 in a tweet.

"All technical prerequisites and preparations have been met for the oil tanker's sail to free sea and the ship will soon leave the Gibraltar area," he tweeted.

Related story: US Department of Justice has applied to seize Iranian VLCC Grace 1: report

US-IRAN TENSIONS

US national security adviser John Bolton was on a diplomatic visit to the UK earlier this week, where one of the topics he discussed with UK government officials was the Iran nuclear deal.

The US withdrew from the deal in May last year and subsequently enforced stringent sanctions against Iran, crippling the country's oil exports.

Iran has been accused of tanker sabotage in six incidents that have taken place in the past two months in the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman.

Last week, the UK joined the US in a maritime security mission in the Persian Gulf, following the tanker attacks and the seizure of the Stena Impero.

Related infographic: Is Iran really targeting 'British' tankers?

-- Eklavya Gupte, eklavya.gupte@spglobal.com

-- Jack Jordan, jack.jordan@spglobal.com

-- Aresu Eqbali, newsdesk@spglobal.com

-- Edited by James Burgess, james.burgess@spglobal.com