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Court grants extension for supertanker detention as Iran threatens to seize UK ship

Photo by David Parody

Gibraltar’s Supreme Court has granted a 14-day extension for authorities to detain the supertanker suspected of carrying Iranian crude oil bound for Syria in breach of EU sanctions.

Attorney General Michael Llamas, QC, confirmed to the Chronicle that the 72-hour detention limit had been extended until July 19 following an ‘in camera’ hearing before the Supreme Court yesterday afternoon.

The application was granted by the Chief Justice Anthony Dudley.

The development came as Iran threatened to seize a British ship in retaliation for the capture of the supertanker Grace 1 in Gibraltar by local authorities assisted by British special forces in the early hours of Thursday morning.

A former commander of the country's powerful Revolutionary Guard, Moshem Rezaei, said Tehran had a "duty" to respond to the seizure of the Grace 1.

"If Britain does not release the Iranian oil tanker, it is the authorities duty to seize a British oil tanker," he said on Twitter.

The warning came after Britain's ambassador in Tehran, Rob Macaire, was summoned to the Iranian Foreign Ministry to explain the Government's actions.

In a statement, the Gibraltar Government said it had taken the decision to intercept the vessel and was not acting at the behest of any other country.

It follows a claim by the Spanish authorities that the seizure of the supertanker was made at the request of the United States which had been tracking its movements.

Additionally, Spain has lodged a diplomatic complaint over the action as it insists the interception took place in Spanish waters, even though the ship was boarded inside British Gibraltar territorial waters.

However Madrid has also made clear that it was aware of the operation beforehand and had not intervened because it was in support of EU sanctions.

In a statement the Gibraltar Government said: “There has been no political request at any time from any Government that the Gibraltar Government should act or not act, on one basis or another.”

“The information which related to the alleged Syrian destination of the vessel and its cargo legally required Gibraltar to take the necessary action once the vessel entered the jurisdiction."

“The decisions of Her Majesty's Government of Gibraltar were taken totally independently, based on breaches of existing law and not at all based on extraneous political considerations.”

“These important decisions about breaches of our laws were certainly not decisions taken at the political behest or instruction of any other state or of any third party.”

“In nations governed by the rule of law decisions about the application of laws relating to what are potentially criminal offences are decision made based on facts and legal analysis and are not decisions made on the basis of political requests, whoever the requesting party may be.”

The Grace 1 was impounded in Gibraltar in the early hours of Thursday after sailing the long way around Africa from the Middle East to the mouth of the Mediterranean, a route that demonstrates the unusual steps Iran appears to be taking to try to keep some exports flowing.

The 28-member crew were mainly Indians with some Pakistanis and Ukrainians. They remain onboard the impounded supertanker where they are being treated as witnesses not criminal suspects.

RGP and customs officials also remained on board the vessel to carry out their investigation, but the Royal Marines were no longer present.

Gibraltar’s authorities are working to establish the nature of the cargo and its ultimate destination.
Documents on the vessel state the cargo is light crude oil.