Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said today that the Islamic Republic will respond to Britain’s “piracy” over the seizure of an Iranian oil tanker in Gibraltar.
The Grace 1 vessel has been detained by the British Overseas Territory since July 4th, where Royal Police and customs officials said laboratory testing confirmed 2.1 million barrels of light crude oil were aboard.
Khamenei told a gathering in Tehran, that “They [the European signatories of the JCPOA] make out of place demands. Then evil Britain, and really their evilness is very clear, commits piracy and steals our ship. It is an act of piracy.” After claiming the United Kingdom has “as usual” tried to portray their crime with “a legal appearance and present a reason for what they have done,” he proclaimed, “Of course the Islamic republic will not leave such evil deeds unanswered. There will be a response at the appropriate time and place.”
Tehran has demanded the release of the Grace 1, and denies suspicion the ship was en route to delivering oil to Syria in violation of European Union sanctions. While the EU has not imposed punitive economic measures against Iran, they have had them in place against Iran’s ally Syria since 2011. Gibraltar’s Chief Minister Fabian Picard has insisted that it the British Overseas Territory will not allow itself “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.”
British Foreign Minister Jeremy Hunt told his Iranian counterpart over the weekend that Britain would facilitate the release of the detained Grace 1 tanker if Tehran gave guarantees it would not go to Syria.
Last week Iran was accused of trying to retaliate for the tanker’s impounding in Gibraltar actions by diverting the “British Heritage” commercial oil tanker from the Strait of Hormuz into its own territorial waters nearby. According to the UK Ministry of Defense, the attempt was foiled when 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.
Meanwhile today there are growing concerns over the location of a United Arab Emirates-based oil tanker. Tracking data shows that the Panamanian-flagged Riah stopped transmitting its location over the weekend after passing through the Strait of Hormuz, with its last known position showing it heading toward Iranian waters.
So far, neither officials in Dubai or Tehran have commented publicly about the Riah, nor has the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet, which oversees Mideast waters.
The ship’s disappearance comes amid rising tensions in the Persian Gulf over the U.S.-Iranian dispute, as the 2015 nuclear deal continues to unravel. The escalation has seen the U.S. deployment of thousands of additional troops, nuclear-capable B-52 bombers and advanced fighter jets to the region; as well as the Iranian downing of a U.S. military surveillance drone and multiple attacks on oil tankers for which Washington has blamed Iran.