Thursday, July 4, 2019

Flag of Convenience Tanker Stormed by UK Troops Amid Accusations of Sanction Breaking

US and EU Support Gibraltar Operation to Seize Iranian - Syrian Cargo of Oil
Shipping News Feature
GIBRALTAR – SYRIA – UK – The government of Gibraltar has confirmed that in the early hours of July 4, Gibraltar Port and Law Enforcement agencies, assisted by a detachment of British Royal Marines, boarded and detained a super tanker allegedly carrying a cargo of crude oil to Syria, in violation of European Union sanctions, with further speculation suggesting that the vessel had sailed from Iran, in contravention of the US ban on Iranian oil exports.

The Gibraltar authorities say that the action arose from information giving its Government reasonable grounds to believe that the vessel, the a 300,000 dwt tanker under the Panamanian flag and operated by Singapore-based Iships Management, the Grace 1, was acting in breach of European Union sanctions against Syria as it was allegedly carrying a shipment of crude oil to a proscribed operation in that country.

The refinery in question is the property of an entity that is subject to the EU sanctions against Syria, namely an organ of the Assad regime. Since the start of the conflict over eight years ago the EU and its Member States have mobilised almost €17 billion inside the country and in neighbouring countries. In that time over 400,000 Syrians have perished with over 6 million displaced from their homes.Gibraltar’s Chief Minister, Fabian Picardo, said:

“With my consent, our Port and Law Enforcement agencies sought the assistance of the Royal Marines in carrying out this operation. As the sanctions being enforced are established by the EU, I have written this morning to the Presidents of the European Commission and Council, setting out the details of the sanctions which we have enforced.

“I want to thank the brave men and women of the Royal Marines, the Royal Gibraltar Police, Her Majesty's Customs Gibraltar and the Gibraltar Port Authority, for their work in securing the detention of this vessel and its cargo.”

A squad of Royal Marines descended onto the deck of the tanker from a helicopter whilst troops from 42 Commando supported from RIBs. Thirty marines took part in the operation after responding to a request from the Gibraltar police who also were involved in the seizure. The incident seemingly prompted an immediate response from the Iranian government which summoned the British ambassador in Tehran to complain of an ‘illegal seizure’.

This of course begs the question if it is a Panamanian flagged vessel registered to a Singapore company and carrying oil, why would the Iranians have any interest unless the oil was theirs? Assuming the oil is manifested as destined for Syria this would break US sanctions, if not where was it headed? Reports state the destination was the Baniyas Refinery in Tartous, a destination controlled by the Syrian regime of President Bashar al-Assad and directly subject to EU sanctions since 2014.

The origin of the cargo is yet to be confirmed, but, if it is found to be carrying crude oil from Iran, the situation would undoubtedly see tensions between Iran and the US worsen further. The ship was tracked from Iran and chemical analysis of the cargo should be able to establish the geographical source of the oil.

This incident will do nothing to lower tensions in the Middle East where the recent attacks on tankers have led to sabre rattling by both sides. The Iranians and the US are already bickering over the uranium enrichment project which Iran says it will continue producing above the level agreed after the simmering row over their failing nuclear agreement.

Photo: 42 Commando training last month at boarding a vessel under way at sea.