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Iran's military chief says Grace 1 detention 'won't go unanswered'

Photo: Johnny Bugeja

The seizure of an Iranian oil tanker off Gibraltar last week will not go "unanswered", Iran's armed forces chief of staff, Major General Mohammad Bagheri, said yesterday, according to the semi-official Tasnim news agency.
"Capture of the Iranian oil tanker based on fabricated excuses ... will not be unanswered and when necessary Tehran will give appropriate answer," Maj Gen Bagheri said.
Gibraltarian law enforcement agencies supported by British Royal Marines boarded the ship, Grace 1, in British waters off the Rock last Thursday and seized it over accusations it was breaking sanctions by taking oil to Syria.
Iran has demanded the immediate release of the oil tanker, while an Iranian Revolutionary Guards commander threatened last Friday to seize a British ship in retaliation.
The ship remains anchored off the east of Gibraltar while investigations by the Royal Gibraltar Police continue. Its 28-man crew has been interviewed as witnesses.
Last week, Gibraltar's Chief Justice, Anthony Dudley, granted a 14-day extension to the period that authorities in Gibraltar can continue to detain the ship pending the outcome of investigations.
On Monday, the Gibraltar Government said tests had shown the supertanker was fully loaded with crude oil when it was seized, contradicting speculation that it had been carrying fuel oil.
The government also confirmed that the Grace 1 was detained when it freely navigated into British Gibraltar territorial waters, having previously left the international waters of the Strait of Gibraltar on a pre-arranged call for provisions and spare parts.
The Gibraltar Government said the vessel’s detention related to the suspected destination of the cargo, Syria’s Banyas refinery, which is owned by the Banyas Oil Refinery Company and subject to EU sanctions.
Iran has denied that claim and insisted the ship was not heading to Syria.
The Gibraltar authorities did not disclose the origin of the oil, although Iranian officials have said it was their tanker.