The US justice department on Friday unveiled a warrant for the seizure of the Iranian oil tanker at the centre of a weeks-long diplomatic dispute, one day after a Gibraltar judge allowed the release of the detained vessel.
The supertanker Grace 1 was seized in early July by the British overseas territory of Gibraltar in apparent retaliation for Iran’s seizure of a British-flagged tanker in the Gulf.
Authorities in Gibraltar – with the backing of the British – had said the vessel was heading for Syria in breach of EU sanctions barring the sale of oil to the regime of Bashar al-Assad. Gibraltar agreed to release the tanker after Tehran promised that its $140m cargo would no longer be transported to Syria.
The United States has called for the seizure of the ship, which was still anchored in Gibraltar, for “a scheme to unlawfully access the US financial system to support illicit shipments to Syria from Iran by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), a designated foreign terrorist organization”, the justice department said.
The warrant says the vessel, all the oil aboard and $995,000 are subject to forfeiture based on violations of the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA), and bank fraud, money laundering, and terrorism forfeiture statutes.
Earlier on Friday, Iranian officials said the tanker was preparing to set sail after a Gibraltar judge ordered its release. But according to an AFP source, the ship was awaiting the arrival of a new crew before it would leave Gibraltar.
The Grace 1 was to be renamed and switch to the Iranian flag for its onward journey, the deputy head of Iran’s ports and maritime organisation, Jalil Eslami, told Iranian state television Friday.
The warrant for the seizure of the tanker, which carries 2.1m barrels of oil, was issued by the US district court for the District of Columbia and addressed to “the United States Marshal’s Service and/or any other duly authorized law enforcement officer”.