BEIRUT — The global standoff between the United States and Iran took a new turn Saturday after the United States issued a warrant for the seizure of an Iranian oil tanker detained in Gibraltar, just hours after the ship was ordered released.
The legal action thrust the Grace 1 supertanker into the heart of tensions between Washington and Tehran a day after a dispute over its fate between Britain and Iran had apparently been resolved.
The British navy intercepted the Grace 1 off Gibraltar last month on suspicion it was delivering oil to Syria in violation of European Union sanctions. The move triggered the capture by Iran two weeks later of a British oil tanker in the Persian Gulf, apparently in retaliation. A Gibraltar court ordered the release of the Grace 1 on Thursday after Britain said it had received guarantees from Tehran that the ship would not deliver oil to Syria, prompting speculation that Iran would release the British ship. Instead, the Grace 1’s departure may be further delayed as authorities in Gibraltar consider whether to act on the U.S. warrant, unveiled late Friday night in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. It seeks the seizure of the ship, the forfeiture of the 2.1 million barrels of oil it is carrying, and the sum of $999,500 on the grounds that the shipment violates U.S. sanctions against Iran as well as Syria.
The warrant marks the first attempt by the United States to interdict a ship since President Donald Trump walked away from the international deal over Iran’s nuclear program and imposed tough new sanctions.
The shipping agent for the tanker says the vessel is ready to depart Gibraltar on Sunday or Monday.