The US government has issued a warrant to seize the supertanker Grace 1, which was detained on suspicion of hauling Iranian oil to Syria in violation of European sanctions.
A complaint unsealed in Washington states that “‘Oil Tanker Grace 1,’ all petroleum aboard it and $995,000 are subject to forfeiture,” according to a Justice Department statement. The statement alleges a “scheme to unlawfully access the US financial system to support illicit shipments” of oil from Iran to Syria in violation of US sanctions, money laundering and terrorism statutes.
The vessel, which is currently anchored off the coast of Gibraltar, is at the centre of a diplomatic spat between the UK and the Trump administration. The US has threatened to impose sactions on anyone dealing with the ship and expressed disappointment with Britain after a court in Gibraltar ruled the ship was free to sail. Ports, banks and anyone else who does business with the ship or its crew might be subject to penalties, two US administration officials said. Iran’s foreign minister said on Twitter that the ship’s detention was unlawful.
While the cargo was originally bound for Syria, Iran has provided assurance that this is no longer the case, the Gibraltar government said.
“The evidence is clear and the facts speak louder than the self-serving political statements we are hearing today,” according to the statement, which didn’t specify the comments it was referring to.
The court’s decision to release the Grace 1 was a missed opportunity and the Trump administration hopes that the UK government and authorities in Gibraltar will reconsider, according to the US officials, who asked not to be identified discussing private deliberations. They said the court order rewards Iranian terrorism and Tehran will interpret the action as appeasement.
It’s not clear when the Grace 1 will set sail. It is anchored off the coast of Gibraltar, where it has been since British forces seized it on suspicion of violating trade sanctions.