New crew for Grace 1 could delay departure to Sunday
by Brian Reyes, Cristina Cavilla and agencies
The Iranian supertanker Grace 1 is unlikely to sail from Gibraltar before Sunday, the Chronicle understands, with six crewmen including a new captain scheduled to arrive this weekend.
Logistical arrangements are currently being put in place by the vessel's owners after it was released on Thursday following six weeks detained under Gibraltar's sanctions legislation.
"Six seafarers including a master will arrive on Sunday," a source with close knowledge of the case told the Chronicle, speaking on condition of anonymity.
"The ship is unlikely to sail before then."
A spokesman for Astralship, the vessel's ship agent in Gibraltar, declined to comment when contacted by the Chronicle.
But earlier on Friday Richard Wilkinson, a lawyer representing the Grace 1's current captain, said his client had asked to be relieved of his command.
"He wants to go home," Mr Wilkinson told the Chronicle.
The developments came as the US State Department claimed the ship had links to terrorism and that anyone associated with it could face "serious consequences".
Authorities in Gibraltar and UK Royal Marines detained the ship last month on suspicion it was shipping oil to Syria in breach of EU sanctions targeting the regime of Bashar al Assad.
But Gibraltar released the ship on Thursday after receiving formal assurances from Iran that it would not deliver its cargo to any EU-sanctioned entity.
The US has requested the Gibraltar Government to hold the ship on separate grounds, but on Friday afternoon that request had not yet led to a formal application before Gibraltar's courts for a detention order.
As such, the ship was free to sail at any time.
It was not clear on Friday when the Grace 1, which is anchored about two miles east of the Rock, would finally sail from British territorial waters around Gibraltar.
But Chief Minister Fabian Picardo said that as far as Gibraltar was concerned, the ship was free to sail.
“As far as being allowed to leave, the orders of the Supreme Court have now lapsed and the ship is no longer specified and therefore she is able to leave as soon as she organises the logistics necessary in order to sail a ship that size wherever it’s going next," he told the BBC Radio 4's Today programme.
As to how soon the ship will leave Gibraltar waters Mr Picardo said that was a matter exclusively for the ship's owners.
Asked if the United States could do anything to stop this Mr Picardo said: “As a matter of law Gibraltar assists any state which has an agreement on mutual legal assistance and they can seek mutual legal assistance from the Gibraltar authorities.”
“Those will be determinations made purely objectively and independently by those authorities and then subject to, once again, the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court of Gibraltar.”
But he confirmed that should Washington act, the case could go back before the court.
He underscored that the issue that was relevant to Gibraltar and that required it to act was the destination of the crude oil and not the international political dispute between Iran and the US.
The developments surrounding the Grace 1 have attracted intense media attention around the globe against the backdrop of strained relations between Iran and the West.
The seizure of the Grace 1 kicked off a sequence of events that saw Tehran seize a British-flagged oil tanker in the Strait of Hormuz two weeks later, heightening tension on a vital international oil shipping route. That tanker, the Stena Impero, is still detained.
The two tankers have become pawns in a bigger game, feeding into wider hostilities since the US last year pulled out of an international agreement curbing Iran's nuclear programme and re-imposed economic sanctions.
On Friday, the US State Department said the Grace 1 was assisting the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) by transporting oil from Iran to Syria.
"This could result in serious consequences for any individuals associated with the Grace I," it added.
"The IRGC has been designated a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) by the United States."
"Crewmembers of vessels assisting the IRGC by transporting oil from Iran may be ineligible for visas or admission to the United States under the terrorism-related inadmissibility grounds in Section 212(a)(3)(B) of the Immigration and Nationality Act."
"The maritime community should be aware that the U.S. government intends to revoke visas held by members of such crews."
"In the case of the M/T Grace I, we will continue to act consistent with our existing policies concerning those who provide material support to the IRGC."
"The United States will continue to use all the tools at its disposal to deny Iran and its proxies the resources they need to engage in malign and destabilizing activities in Syria and elsewhere."
"This includes the full enforcement of U.S. sanctions with respect to Iran and the IRGC."
On Friday Iran said the ship was being re-flagged under the Iranian flag and would be renamed.
"Based on the owner's request, the oil tanker Grace 1 will depart for the Mediterranean after being reflagged under the Iranian flag and renamed Adrian Darya after preparing for the journey," state television quoted Jalil Eslami, deputy head of Iran's Ports and Maritime Organisation, as saying.
Iran also denied it had provided any assurances to secure the ship's release, saying Gibraltar was only seeking to "save face".
"Iran has given no assurances over the Grace 1 not going to Syria to secure its release," the state broadcaster's youth website quoted foreign ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi as saying Friday.
"The tanker's destination was not Syria ... and even if it was, it did not concern anyone else."
But that statement was at odds with diplomatic correspondence from the Iranian Government to the Gibraltar Government – published by Gibraltar on Thursday - stating clearly that the ship would not sail to an EU-sanctioned entity.
"The written position set out in the Notes Verbale speak for themselves and confirm that the Islamic Republic of Iran has provided the commitment referred to," a Gibraltar Government spokesman said.
"The evidence located aboard the Grace 1 and explicitly referred to in the Legal Notice issued yesterday demonstrates that the vessel was going to Syria."
"The evidence is clear and the facts speak louder than the self-serving political statements we are hearing today."