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Gibraltar rejects US request to seize Iranian tanker heading for Mediterranean

Dubai — The government of Gibraltar rejected a US request to seize an Iranian tanker that was released by the British territory after being detained for more than a month on suspicion of transporting oil to sanctions-hit Syria.

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Gibraltar couldn't get a court order to allow the US to take over the ship, the government said in a statement on its website.

The government's inability to provide the ship to the US "is a result of the operation of European Union law and the differences in the sanctions regimes applicable to Iran in the EU and the US." It added: "the EU sanctions regime on Iran is fundamentally different to that of the US."

The US last week had requested that it seize Grace 1, which was carrying 2.1 million barrels of light crude allegedly headed to Syria's Banias refinery. Iran denied the allegations and demanded the release of the tanker that was detained on July 4. On July 19, Iranian forces detained the UK-flagged tanker Stena Impero as it passed through the Strait of Hormuz.

Tensions between the US and Iran have escalated in recent months as Washington tightened the noose on Tehran's oil industry after re-imposing sanctions last year.

US officials have blamed Iran for a series of tanker attacks since May in the Strait of Hormuz, a key chokepoint whose daily oil flow averaged 21 million b/d or about 21% of global petroleum liquids consumption in 2018, according to the US Energy Information Administration.

Hossein Khanzadi, rear admiral commander of the Iranian Army's Navy, confirmed that the tanker left Gibraltar and that Tehran was ready to escort the tanker until it reaches Iranian territorial waters if needed, Iranian media reported on Sunday.

The tanker is headed to the Mediterranean Sea and has dropped the Panama flag and replaced it with an Iranian flag, Iranian media reported, citing Jalil Eslami, deputy head of the Ports and Maritime Organization of Iran.

"Grace 1 was renamed Adrian Daria whose next destination after detention is the Mediterranean Sea," he said.

Iran's ambassador to London, Hamid Baeidinejad, said in a tweet that the tanker has an Iranian flag now because Panama requested that its flag be dropped.

"Naturally with the registration of the oil tanker in Iran, a new name was chosen for it," Baeidinejad tweeted. "It is emphasized that this oil tanker is not under any sanctions and its oil, based on the official bill of lading, belongs to the National Iranian Oil Company."

Iran has yet to release Stena Impero, despite UK government requests to return the tanker.

Alireza Tangsiri, commander of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps' naval forces, said the detention of the UK-flagged tanker and the release of the Iranian tanker are not related.

"Release of the detained British oil tanker depends on the decision of judicial authorities and those of the Ports and Maritime Organizations," state television quoted Tangsiri as saying.

"Detention and release of these two have nothing to do with each other."

--Dania Saadi, dania.el.saadi@spglobal.com

--Aresu Eqbali, newsdesk@spglobal.com

--Edited by Claudia Carpenter, claudia.carpenter@spglobal.com