Iran: Britain's Move to Seize Oil Tanker 'Piracy'

Iran: Britain's Move to Seize Oil Tanker 'Piracy'

British Royal Marines seized a giant Iranian oil tanker in Gibraltar on Thursday for trying to take oil to Syria in violation of European Union sanctions, a dramatic step that drew Tehran's fury and could escalate its confrontation with the West.

"If Britain does not release the Iranian oil tanker, the relevant authorities will be duty-bound to take reciprocal action and seize a British oil tanker", commander Mohsen Rezai wrote on Twitter.

Iran's intelligence minister said Thursday that any negotiations with the USA would have to be approved by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and would require the lifting of US sanctions.

Gibraltar said on Friday it had obtained an order extending the detention of the Iranian Grace I supertanker by 14 days because there were grounds to believe it was breaking sanctions by taking oil to Syria.

Iran's state-run IRNA news agency called the incident "an illegal seizure of an Iranian oil tanker". Britain's Foreign Office did not respond to a request for comment.

The U.S. said Friday its ambassador to worldwide organizations in Vienna, Jackie Wolcott, had requested a special meeting of the global Atomic Energy Agency to discuss its "latest, concerning report on the Iran regime's nuclear program".

Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said the crude oil cargo was from Iran.

Ship mapping information from data firm Refinitiv shows that in the latest case, the Grace 1 sailed a long route to the mouth of the Mediterranean around the southern tip of Africa instead of via Egypt's Suez Canal. Spain does not recognize any Gibraltarian territorial waters, based on the 1713 Treaty of Utrecht by which Spain ceded the territory during the War of Spanish Succession.

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Tensions have escalated since President Donald Trump withdrew America from Iran's nuclear deal past year and restored heavy sanctions.

The BBC reported that 30 marines, from 42 Commando, flew from the Gibraltar to help seize the tanker, at the request of the Gibraltar government.

"We have reason to believe that the Grace 1 was carrying its shipment of crude oil to the Banyas Refinery in Syria", Gibraltar's Chief Minister Fabian Picardo said in the statement.

"America & our allies will continue to prevent regimes in Tehran & Damascus from profiting off this illicit trade", John Bolton concluded.

Iran backs the government headed by President Bashar Al-Assad, which has been sanctioned for most of this decade due to its bloody crackdown on the country's civilians.

Recent Trump administration sanctions on Tehran have seen the exports of Iranian oil drop to below 500,000 barrels a day, which is less than a third of what economists believe Tehran needs to have a healthy economy.

Iranian state news, IRNA, said the 300,000 tonne carrying capacity ship was boarded by British marines early Thursday morning.

A U.S. State Department spokesperson said the U.S. welcomes "international partners' resolve in upholding and enforcing these sanctions".

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