USA to revoke visas held by crew of Iranian ship

Clay Curtis
August 17, 2019

The US is gravely disappointed with the United Kingdom after a Gibraltar court allowed the release of an Iranian tanker suspected of hauling oil to Syria, and threatened sanctions against ports, banks and anyone else who does business with the ship or its crew, two administration officials said.

After a hearing in Gibraltar on Thursday, the local Supreme Court of the region ruled that the tanker should be released after formal written assurances from Iran that the ship would not discharge its cargo in Syria and therefore not be in breach of European Union sanctions.

The Panama-flagged Grace 1 supertanker was detained by Gibraltar on July 4 on suspicion of transporting crude oil to Syria in violation of sanctions.

As the global feud played out over the past month, the U.K. became the sole country to definitively answer the United States' call to join a so-called maritime security initiative meant to guard commercial vessels through the Persian Gulf region.

Before the last minute US legal action, authorities in Gibraltar had announced they would release the Grace 1 and drop legal actions against the ship's captain and crew in order to ease tensions.

"The US Department of Justice has applied to seize the Grace 1 on a number of allegations which are now being considered", a government spokesman said.

The Grace 1 "is no longer subject to detention", Chief Justice Anthony Dudley said in court.

The U.K. Foreign and Commonwealth Office cautioned that there was no connection between Gibraltar's enforcement of sanctions and Iran's activities at the mouth of the Persian Gulf. Two weeks later, Iran seized a British ship in the Gulf, in what was widely regarded as a tit-for-tat operation.

Anyone that does business with the ship, its crew or its owners, or provides financial transactions or port services to the vessel could be liable for evading USA sanctions, the officials said.

The grounds for the U.S. application are not clear at this stage but the court was told it was a request from the Department of Justice for mutual legal assistance. The New York Times reported that Iranian oil traders told them the ship will now stop by Greece and Italy, although it is unclear who will buy oil from Iran and risk US secondary sanctions.

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"The investigations being conducted around the Grace 1 are a matter for the Government of Gibraltar", a Foreign Office spokesperson told ABC News.

As for The Rock's local government, it said that it hoped to "de-escalate issues arising since the lawful detention of Grace 1", releasing the crew members of the tanker on Tuesday.

"The Gibraltar authorities had said the vessel is loaded to capacity with crude oil enroute to Syria, in breach of European Union (EU) sanctions".

Iran's foreign minister is accusing the US of trying to "steal our property on the high seas" after an American request to seize an Iranian oil tanker.

Tehran repeatedly called for the release of Grace 1, insisting it had been in worldwide waters and not headed to Syria. "All preparations are done for the tanker to sail into open waters, and the vessel will soon leave Gibraltar".

The sabotage attacks come as Iran suffers under crippling sanctions imposed by US President Donald Trump after he pulled the United States from the 2015 nuclear deal created to recover Iran's economy in return for curbing its nuclear programme.

Washington has imposed sanctions on Iran with the aim of halting its oil exports altogether.

The capture of the tankers heightened tensions just as European nations scramble to save a landmark nuclear deal with the Islamic Republic after the United States pulled out of the accord in May past year and started imposing painful sanctions on Iran.

China has also backed this initiative and Germany rejected an invite to the USA mission, while France expressed initial support for a European-led project to safeguard shipping in the region.

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