Royal Gibraltar Police have arrested the captain and the first mate of the Iranian Grace 1 oil tanker, that has been detained by the British Overseas Territory since July 4th. The RGP stated that the arrests followed a protracted search of the vessel, involving the confiscation and examination of documents and electronic devices. RGP and HM customs also confirmed that both officers are being questioned by investigators under caution at police headquarters.
Gibraltar has emphasized that it is solely responsible for last week’s decision to detain the tanker, and that it was not carried out at the behest of any other state or third party. In an address to parliament today, the territory’s Chief Minister Fabian Picard said “all relevant decisions in respect to this matter were taken as direct result only of the government of Gibraltar having reasonable grounds to believe that the vessel was acting in breach of established EU sanctions against Syria.”
He then underscored “There has been no political request at any time from any government that the Gibraltar government should act or not act on one basis or another.”
After also revealing that laboratory testing confirmed that 2.1 million barrels of light crude oil were being transported aboard the Grace 1, Chief Minister Picard said “We will not allow Gibraltar to be used or to be knowingly or unknowingly complicit in the breach of European Union or other international sanctions or for any of the matters which our laws prohibit.”
Iran has been accused of retaliating against the Gibraltar actions with an attempted seizure of the “British Heritage” commercial oil tanker in the Persian Gulf on Wednesday. The United Kingdom’s Ministry of Defense reported that three Iranian vessels tried to impede the ship’s passage through the Strait of Hormuz, and divert it to the nearby territorial waters of the Islamic Republic. The Iranian vessels were forced to turn away after the Royal Navy “HMS Montrose” warship, that had been accompanying the tanker due to increased tensions in the Gulf, blocked access and issued verbal warnings. U.S. officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said “The Royal Navy HMS Montrose pointed guns at the [Iranian] boats and warned them over radio, at which point they dispersed,” describing the incident as “harassment and an attempt to interfere with the passage.” An American military aircraft flying overhead reportedly filmed the entire exchange.
Earlier on Wednesday, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said the United Kingdom would face “consequences” over the seizure of the Iranian tanker, and the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps threatened a week ago that it would seize a British vessel if the Grace 1 remained impounded in Gibraltar.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Marine General Joseph Dunford, announced that Washington is in the process of enlisting allies to form a military coalition in the near future, that will act to safeguard strategic waters off Iran and Yemen.
Tensions between Iran and the United States and its allies have risen sharply since Washington stepped up economic sanctions against the Islamic Republic and implemented a “maximum pressure” policy to cut the country’s oil exports to zero, as part of an overall campaign aimed at forcing Tehran to halt actions the White House says undermine regional security.
Iran has responded to the sanctions by breaching limits on its nuclear activities under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action 2015 deal with world powers, such as the enrichment of uranium at higher levels. Tehran is additionally suspected of attacking several foreign oil tankers near its southern coast in May and June. Iran also admittedly shot down a U.S. drone near the Strait of Hormuz last month, prompting President Donald Trump to order retaliatory air strikes which he called off a short time later.