Gibraltar tanker seizure sparks Iran-UK row, irks Spain

The seizure of a supertanker suspected to be carrying more than 2 million barrels of Iranian crude to Syria near Gibraltar’s coast has stirred a diplomatic row between Iran and Britain and irked Spain.

Gibraltar being an overseas territory of Britain, Royal Navy Marines rushed to help its port and law enforcement officers to board the 300,000 tonne vessel, MT Grace1, 2.5 miles off the coast around 2am on Thursday.

Hours later, Iran’s foreign ministry summoned UK’s envoy to Tehran, Nicolas Hopton, to lodge their formal protest against the “illegal seizure” of the vessel.

Secretary of the Expediency Council (EC) went a few steps further and said Iran should seize a British oil tanker if London does not release the Iranian tanker.

“The Islamic Revolution has never been an initiator of tension during its 40-year-old history, however, it has not hesitated to respond to bullies and thugs,” Mohsen Rezaee tweeted on Friday.

Gibraltar’s chief minister, Fabian Picardo, defended the action, saying he has reason to believe that the Panamanian-flagged tanker was on its way to deliver crude to Syria’s Banyas refinery in breach of 2011 EU sanctions against Damascus.

British Prime Minister Theresa May’s spokesperson praised the marines and Gibraltar’s officials for their teamwork and said the seizure sends a clear message that the UK would not tolerate any violation of the sanctions.

The Royal Navy Marines were sent to the territory at the request of Gibraltar government, the spokesperson said.

Picardo thanked some 30 marines, 16 local police and 60 customs officers for their quick response.

Police questioned the 20-member tanker crew consisting of mostly Indians along with some Pakistanis and Ukrainians.

In the meantime, another row seems to be brewing between Spain and Britain over the tanker seizure incident.

Spain’s acting foreign minister Josep Borrell said Madrid is studying the circumstances leading to the event.

He said Britain acted at US’ behest amid rising tensions between Washington and Tehran over suspected attacks by Iran on oil tankers and a US drone near the Strait of Hormuz in the Gulf.

The US has imposed new sanctions on Iran after these incidents.

Borrell said he is looking into how Thursday’s incident is going to affect his country’s sovereignty since it happened in “Spanish waters”.

Spain considers the waters around Gibraltar as its own.