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Iran says Grace 1 tanker could be released ‘soon’

REUTERS/Jon Nazca

Iran said today that the supertanker Grace 1 could be released ‘soon’, after some documents were exchanged that would help the seized ship's release.

"Britain is interested in releasing Iran's oil tanker Grace 1 ... following the exchange of some documents, we hope the release will take place soon," the deputy head of Iran's ports and Maritime Organisation, Jalil Eslami, said in remarks reported by Iran’s IRNA news agency.

The Iranian oil tanker was seized in Gibraltar on July 4 on suspicion of violating EU sanctions by taking oil to Syria, which Iran denies.

"The vessel was seized based on false allegations ...it has not been freed yet," Mr Eslami said.

Authorities in Gibraltar were given permission by Gibraltar’s Supreme Court to detain the vessel until mid-August, with another hearing on the matter set for Thursday morning. The current detention order on the vessel expires on Saturday night.

The UK Government had previously offered to help secure the release of the Grace 1 - pending due process in Gibraltar’s courts - in return for guarantees from Tehran that it would not breach EU sanctions on the Assad regime in Syria.

Both Gibraltar and the UK have repeatedly stressed that the Grace 1 was seized because of suspicions its cargo of 2.1m barrels of crude was bound for a Syrian refinery.

They said the Iranian origin of the cargo was not a factor in the decision to stop the supertanker when it entered British waters off Gibraltar to collect stores on July 4.

On Tuesday the Gibraltar Government declined to be drawn on the reports from Iran about the vessel’s release.

“We continue to seek to de-escalate issues arising since the lawful detention of Grace 1,” a spokesman said.

The developments come against the background of tension in the Strait of Hormuz, one of the world’s key maritime chokepoints.

Two weeks after the capture of the Iranian tanker, Iran’s Revolutionary Guards seized a British tanker, Stena Impero, near the Strait of Hormuz, accusing it of marine violations.

Britain considers that action to have been illegal retaliation.

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