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Iranian oil tanker pursued by US ‘heading to Turkey’

Johnny Bugeja

An Iranian-flagged oil tanker pursued by the US amid growing tensions between Tehran and Washington has changed its listed destination to a port in Turkey after Greece said it would not risk its relations with America by aiding the vessel.

The crew of the Adrian Darya 1, formerly known as the Grace 1, updated its listed destination in its Automatic Identification System (AIS) to Mersin, Turkey, a port city in the country's south and home to an oil terminal.

However, mariners can input any destination into the AIS, so Turkey may not be its true destination.

Mersin is some 125 miles north-west of a refinery in Baniyas, Syria, where authorities alleged the Adrian Darya had been heading before being seized off Gibraltar in early July.

Iranian state media and officials did not immediately acknowledge the new reported destination of the Adrian Darya, which carries 2.1 million barrels of Iranian crude oil worth around 130 million dollars (£106 million).

Nor was there any immediate reaction from Turkey, whose president Recep Tayyip Erdogan deals directly with Tehran and Russia over Syria's long war.

The ship-tracking website MarineTraffic.com showed the Adrian Darya's position as just south of Sicily in the Mediterranean Sea.

At current speeds, it is estimated the Adrian Darya would reach Mersin in about a week.

The tanker's detention and later release by Gibraltar has fuelled the growing tensions between Iran and the US after President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew America from Iran's 2015 nuclear deal with world powers over a year ago.

In the time since, Iran lost billions of dollars in business deals allowed by the deal as the US re-imposed and created sanctions largely blocking Tehran from selling crude oil aboard, a crucial source of hard currency for the Islamic Republic.

In US federal court documents, authorities allege the Adrian Grace's true owner is Iran's Revolutionary Guard, a paramilitary organisation answerable only to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

The US declared the Guard a foreign terror organisation in April, the first time America named a military force of a nation as such, giving it the legal power to issue a warrant for the vessel's seizure.

However, that would require another nation to acknowledge the writ.

The Adrian Darya had noted its intended destination as Kalamata, Greece, even though the port did not have the infrastructure to offload oil from the tanker. The US state department then pressured Greece not to aid the vessel.

Meanwhile, Iran continues to hold the British-flagged oil tanker Stena Impero, which it seized in a commando-style raid July 19 after the taking of the Adrian Darya.

Analysts suggested the release of the Adrian Darya would see the Stena Impero let go, but that has yet to happen.