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Gibraltar Detains Super Tanker Carrying Iranian Oil To Syria

A view of the Grace 1 super tanker in the British territory of Gibraltar, Thursday, July 4, 2019. (AP Photo/Marcos Moreno)

The Gibraltar Port and Enforcement agencies say they have detained a super tanker carrying Iranian crude oil to Syria Thursday morning on July 4.

A statement issued by Gibraltar authorities say the super tanker and its cargo have been detained with assistance by the United Kingdom's Royal Marines for violating EU sanctions against Syria. However, the statement did not mention Iran.

Nevertheless, if the vessel is confirmed to have been carrying Iranian oil, U.S. sanctions against Iran will also apply to the ship and its cargo.

Later on Thursday , acting Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Borrell said the supertanker was impounded after a request by the United States to Britain.

Spain was looking into the seizure of the ship, suspected of carrying crude oil to Syria, and how it may affect Spanish sovereignty as it appears to have happened in Spanish waters, Borrell said.

Spain does not recognize the waters around Gibraltar as British.

Later reports from Tehran said Iran has summoned the UK ambassador to the foreign Ministry in protest.

The United States imposed heavy sanctions on Iran, particularly affecting its oil exports and international banking, after the United States withdrew from the nuclear deal with Tehran in May 2018.

According to Reuters, evidence shows that Grace 1 has been en-route from Iran sailing around the Southern Cape of Africa rather than going through the Suez Canal which is the main navigation route in that region.

In recent months there have been reports that Egypt has refused to allow ships carrying Iranian oil to pass through the Suez.

News agencies say the super tanker, The Grace 1, was sailing from Iran carrying oil for Banyas refinery in Syria when officers from Gibraltar Port Authority boarded it early Thursday morning.

The Bonyas Refinery in Western Syria is owned by an entity that is subject to the European Union's sanctions against Syria. The EU has sanctioned the two refineries at Bonyas and Homs, charging that they lend financial support to the Assad regime.

The "Chief Minister of Her Majesty's government of Gibraltar" said in a statement also released on video, "I also gave a Direction requiring the Captain of the Port, assisted by the Royal Gibraltar Police and Her Majesty’s Customs to take control of the Grace 1," adding "With my consent, our Port and Law Enforcement agencies sought the assistance of the Royal Marines in carrying out this operation."

The Chief Minister has informed the President of the European Commission and Council of the details of the EU sanctions which have been enforced.

Gibraltar is a "British Overseas Territory" and headland, on Spain's south coast. It’s dominated by the Rock of Gibraltar, a 426m-high limestone ridge.

International shipping information indicate that Grace 1 super tanker has a capacity of 300,000 tons and sails under the flag of Panama.

The detention of Grace 1 took place one day after Iranian MPs protested the seizing by Saudi Arabia of another oil tanker carrying one million barrels of crude oil.

According to the latest statistics, Iran's oil exports have dropped from over 2.5 million barrels to 300,000 barrels as a result of U.S. sanctions in the past one year.

The sanctions have also affected Iran's oil production which has dropped from 3.8 million barrels per day to 2.28 million barrels.

With reporting by Reuters and BBC