Washington: The US Justice Department issued a warrant on Friday for the seizure of the Iranian oil supertanker Grace 1, one day after a Gibraltar judge allowed the release of the detained vessel.
The Justice Department alleged the ship was part of a scheme “to unlawfully access the US financial system to support illicit shipments to Syria from Iran by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps,” which the US has designated a foreign terrorist organisation.
The warrant says the vessel, which remained anchored in the British Mediterranean territory late on Friday, and all the oil aboard are subject to forfeiture based on violations of the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, as well as bank fraud, money laundering, and terrorism statutes.
It also ordered the seizure of $995,000 in an account at an unnamed US bank associated with Paradise Global Trading LLC, which it called a shell company associated with businesses which act for the Revolutionary Guards.
There was no immediate word from Britain or Gibraltar over whether they would act on the warrant, as Iran said it was sending a new crew to pilot the tanker and its 2.1 million barrels of oil.
On Thursday a Gibraltar judge ordered the release of the Grace 1, six weeks after it was detained on suspicion of violating international sanctions on Syria, the alleged planned recipient of the crude oil it was carrying.
The judge rejected a last-minute legal move by Washington demanding that the ship remain detained.
The July 4 seizure came amid surging tensions in the Gulf after several alleged Iranian attacks on smaller tankers.
The US — citing Tehran’s threat to American allies — expanded its military presence in the region with a new aircraft carrier task force, missile batteries and strategic bombers. Iran called the detention of the Grace 1 an “illegal interception” staged by the United States, while Washington cheered it as “excellent news.”
Tehran and Washington have been at loggerheads since US President Donald Trump withdrew last year from a landmark 2015 nuclear deal between major powers and Iran, reimposing crippling unilateral sanctions.
In the wake of Grace 1’s detention, on July 19 Iran seized the British-flagged tanker Stena Impero in the Strait of Hormuz.
Tehran said the ship was in violation of “international maritime rules,” but the move was widely seen as retaliation for the Grace 1.
Thursday’s release of the Grace 1 came after Gibraltar’s government said it had received written assurances from Iran that the ship would not be headed for countries “subject to European Union sanctions.