GIBRALTAR’S Chief Minister Fabian Picardo has insisted the decision last week to detaining Iranian tanker Grace 1 was taken on its own judgement and not at the behest of any other state or third party.
And he stressed his belief that the ship WAS in breach of EU sanctions against Iran. Mr Picardo told the British overseas territory’s Parliament: “Last week we acted because we had reasonable grounds to believe that this vessel was taking actions in breach of established EU sanctions against Syria. These actions would be contrary to the law of Gibraltar, as the EU sanctions are contained in an EU regulation which has been directly applicable in Gibraltar since 2012.
“After laboratory testing, the cargo has now been confirmed to be 2.1 million barrels of light crude oil.
“We will not allow Gibraltar to be used or to be knowingly or unknowingly complicit in the breach of EU or other international sanctions or for any of the matters which our laws prohibit.”
Mr Picardo added: “All relevant decisions in respect of this matter were taken only as a direct result of the government of Gibraltar having reasonable grounds to believe the vessel was acting in breach of established EU sanctions against Syria.
”There has been no political request at any time from any government that Gibraltar should act or not act on one basis or another.”
The vessel contained 2.1 million barrels of light crude oil, he said.
EU sanctions prohibit Iran from exporting oil to Syria.
The ship was boarded by Royal Marines and seized on Thursday.
In a statement, the Royal Gibraltar Police said the arrests followed a “protracted” search of the vessel, which remains in detention, during which documents and electronic devices were seized.
The arrests came just hours after a Royal Navy warship drove off Iranian patrol boats as they attempted to impede the progress of a British tanker through the Strait of Hormuz.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani had previously warned of unspecified “repercussions” for the seizure of the Grace 1, while speaking today, foreign ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said: “This is a dangerous game and we advise them not get involved in this game under America’s influence.”
He added: “We ask them again to release the tanker immediately, which will be in all countries’ interest.”
In London, ministers urged Tehran to “de-escalate” the situation in the Gulf.
However, the arrest, and Mr Picardo’s comments, are likely to exacerbate the already heightened tensions in the region.
Foreign Secretary and Tory leadership hopeful Jeremy Hunt has said tensions in the Gulf make the case for strengthening the Royal Navy.
Claiming “we have run down the navy too much” in recent decades, Mr Hunt, the son of an admiral, promised to add more warships to the fleet if he become Prime Minister.
Writing in the Daily Telegraph, Mr Hunt said: “Three vessels from a foreign military power tried to seize a British ship conducting its rightful business.
“The simplicity of these words belies the incredible menace behind Iran’s actions. Not for the first time, Britain’s interests were defended by the Royal Navy.”
Nevertheless, a security source told Reuters news agency yesterday.
Britain does not intend to escort every British-flagged merchant vessel through the Strait of Hormuz.
The source said London would be resolute in defending its maritime interests in the Gulf but it does not want to escalate the situation with Iran.
Maritime law allows vessels to display the British flag if they are registered in the UK, the Isle of Man or the Cayman Islands.
One such UK-flagged vessel, owned by Tokyo-based Mitsui OKS Lines, travelled through the Strait of Hormuz barely two hours ago, according to data provided by Refinitiv Oil Research.
We will not allow Gibraltar to be used or to be knowingly or unknowingly complicit in the breach of EU or other international sanctions