U.S. has order to seize Iranian oil tanker at Gibraltar based on new violations

The United States unsealed a seizure warrant and forfeiture complaint Friday against the Iranian oil tanker Grace 1 for allegedly trying to “unlawfully access the U.S. financial system to support illicit shipments to Syria from Iran.”

The Iranian oil tanker Grace 1 is free to leave Gibraltar after more than a month in British custody. But the tanker’s captain wants to be relieved of his command and the United States wants the tanker seized for trying to access the U.S. financial system. Photo by A. Carrasco Ragel

This further complicates the fate of the oil tanker that has been stuck in Gibraltar since the British Royal Marines seized it on July 4. On Thursday, the British struck a deal to return the impounded ship.

The U.S. government alleges that that all the crude oil plus $995,000 are subject to forfeiture based on violations of the International emergency Economic Powers Act, the Justice Department said in a statement. Iran is also accused of bank fraud, money laundering and terrorism.

The documents were unsealed in U.S. District Court. The Justice Department said they are only allegations and the burden is on the government to prove it.

On Thursday, the U.S. State Department said it would block visas or admission into the United States for all the crew members of the Grace 1 because they are assisting Iran’s Revolutionary Guard.

Complicating matters further, even though the ship is free to leave the captain doesn’t want to be in command anymore and has asked that Iran replace him, his lawyer Richard Wilkinson said.

“He doesn’t want to stay in command of the ship, he wants to go home, because he wasn’t happy to go back and pick up the broken pieces,” Wilkinson said. “But he’s a professional skipper and needs to wait for a new crew to do a proper handover.”

The British originally seized the ship over claims it was transporting oil to Syria, a violation of European Union sanctions.

On Friday, smoke appeared to be coming from the funnel but the anchor was still secured in the water.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Seyed Abbas Mousavi remained non-committal about the tanker’s destination.

“For the release of the Grace 1 oil tanker, Iran made no commitment that the ship would not go to Syria because from the early hours of the tanker’s detention, we announced that Syria was not its destination and we have upheld the same and reiterated that it was nobody’s business even if it was Syria,” Mousavi said.

Tehran warned Britain of retaliation and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard made good on its promise by capturing the oil tanker Sena Impero

ByNicholas Sakelaris