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Iran condemns British 'piracy' as Israeli organisation launches legal bid to seize Grace 1

Johnny Bugeja

Iran's top leader has said his country will retaliate over the seizure of an Iranian tanker in Gibraltar.
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called the seizure of the ship "piracy" in a televised speech on Tuesday, saying: "God willing, the Islamic Republic and its committed forces will not leave this evilness without a response."
The development came as The Times reported that an Israeli activist organisation with links to Mossad was taking legal steps in a bid to block the return of the tanker to Iran.
The supertanker, carrying 2.1 million barrels of light crude oil, was seized by authorities in Gibraltar with the help of British Royal Marines earlier this month.
The Gibraltar Government said the vessel was seized on suspicion that it was carrying oil to Syria in breach of European Union sanctions against that country.
"The provenance and origin of the cargo aboard the Grace 1 has not been relevant at all to Gibraltar's actions," Chief Minister Fabian Picardo said in a statement to Parliament last Friday.
"We have no desire, right or obligation to do anything other than enforce the existing sanctions against the Syrian regime, as we are bound and legally required to do by EU regulation 36/2012."
At the weekend, the UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt offered to help secure the release of the Iranian supertanker Grace 1 held in Gibraltar after being detained in an operation involving Gibraltar law enforcement agencies and British Royal Marines.
Mr Hunt, who first spoke to Mr Picardo, phoned Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on Saturday and sought to reassure him the vessel was intercepted over suspicions it was carrying oil to Syria - and not because it was Iranian.
He said he had offered to facilitate the tanker's release - pending due process in Gibraltar’s courts - in return for guarantees from Tehran that it would not breach EU sanctions on the Assad regime.
But according to The Times, lawyers for the Israeli organisation Shurat HaDin will file a petition in the Supreme Court of Gibraltar seeking an injunction to seize the vessel and its cargo.
They want them to be used to pay damages for the victims of terrorist acts allegedly sponsored by Iran.
The organisation has won a series of judgments in US courts holding Iran responsible for the murder of Israeli-Americans by Islamist groups including Hamas and Hezbollah.
Under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act Tehran was found liable for hundreds of millions of dollars in damages, but only a tiny fraction has ever been recovered through seized Iranian assets. The act does not apply automatically in courts outside the United States but they can be petitioned to consider an American ruling.
“The Grace 1 in Gibraltar is a rare opportunity for the victims to seize Iranian assets and for European governments to show that they are unforgiving in the struggle against terrorism,” the organisation's president Nitsana Darshan-Leitner was quoted as saying.
According to The Times, a team of British lawyers led by Jonathan Goldberg, QC, has also written to the port authorities in Gibraltar to demand that the tanker is impounded while inspections are carried out to determine its seaworthiness.
Mr Goldberg is no stranger to Gibraltar, having been involved in representing one of the defendants following the collapse of local law firm Marrache & Co in 2010.
Shurat HaDin also claims to have acquired intelligence suggesting that the tanker is unfit to sail, according to The Times.
The authorities in Gibraltar have not made any public comment about the ship's seaworthiness.
However Mr Picardo told Parliament last week that steps had been taken to minimise any environmental risk from the vessel's cargo.
"We are acutely conscious of the environmental issues that arise from the type of cargo that is held about Grace 1," he said at the time.
"There are obvious inherent risks in the maintenance of such a cargo, all of which are being skilfully mitigated by the Gibraltar Port Authority, both as to security and all other relevant concerns."
"I know this will of course be a concern to citizens both in Gibraltar and in neighbouring states."
"The Government will want to give reassurances that we are working to ensure that there will be no transboundary effects as a result of the maintenance of the cargo of the Grace 1 in Gibraltar."