An Iranian supertanker sought by the United States on suspicion of being tied to a sanctioned organization set off from Gibraltar on August 18 to an unknown destination, according to Marinetraffic.com, which uses GPS data to track vessels.
As of 17 minutes past midnight local time on August 18, the Iranian-flagged Adrian Darya-1, formerly known as Grace 1 under a Panamanian flag, was rounding the southern the tip of the Iberian Peninsula in international waters and appears to be entering the Mediterranean Sea. https://www.marinetraffic.com/en/ais/details/ships/shipid:416354/vessel:GRACE%201
Carrying about $130 million worth of light crude oil, the tanker spent a month in custody in Gibraltar over possible breaching of EU sanctions. U.S. authorities have attempted to seize it based on its own set of restrictive measures toward Iran.
However, officials in Gibraltar on August 18 rejected a renewed U.S. request that they not release the tanker, saying in a statement, 'The EU sanctions regime against Iran -- which is applicable in Gibraltar -- is much narrower than that applicable in the U.S.'
'The Gibraltar Central Authority is unable seek an Order of the Supreme Court of Gibraltar to provide the restraining assistance required by the United States of America,' it added.
The vessel's destination is currently not known.
This and other shipping disputes have come amid rising tensions between Iran and the West over U.S. sanctions and mounting military and commercial incidents in and around the Persian Gulf, which sees around one-fifth of international oil shipments.
The Grace 1 was seized by Royal Marines forces as it entered the Mediterranean Sea on July 4, reportedly carrying over 2 million barrels of Iranian oil that some feared was bound for Syria in violation of EU sanctions.
After Gibraltar withdrew its five-week-old detention order against the Grace 1 on August 15, the U.S. Justice Department issued a warrant over its alleged connections to the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), an arm of the Iranian military that was recently designated as a foreign terrorist organization by U.S. authorities.
The U.S. warrant said the Grace 1, all of the oil aboard, and $995,000 are subject to forfeiture, citing what it called violations of the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA) and bank fraud, money-laundering, and terrorism statutes.
Iranian officials have insisted the tanker's cargo hold of oil is not bound for Syria, which is under EU sanctions.
Shipping tensions increased with Iran's seizure of a U.K.-flagged tanker, the Stena Impero, near the Strait of Hormuz later in July in what they suggested was a tit-for-tat move.
U.S. President Donald Trump has called for an international effort to escort vessels to defend commercial shipping interests in the Persian Gulf against harassment and illegal interference, meeting with support from the U.K. and from some other Western and Gulf state officials.
But Iranian officials, who have routinely said the Strait of Hormuz is under their close watch, said recently that 'outside presences' in the region can destabilize things.
Then on August 18, Reuters quoted the IRGC's naval chief warning that the presence of the United States and Britain in the region 'means insecurity' and seemingly suggesting its own regional coalition to provide security in the Gulf.
'The presence of America and England in this region means insecurity,' Iran's ILNA news agency quoted IRGC naval commander Alireza Tangsiri as saying.
The U.S. Justice Department accused the Grace 1 of scheming to 'unlawfully access the U.S. financial system to support illicit shipments to Syria from Iran by the [IRGC].'
Statements from Washington and Tehran have become increasingly harsh since Trump withdrew the United States last year from a deal with other world powers and Iran to exchange sanctions relief for curbs on Iran's disputed nuclear program.
With reporting by TASS and AP
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