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Official: British-Seized Iranian Oil Tanker to Return to Int’l Waters Soon

TEHRAN Deputy Head of Iran's Ports and Maritime Organization (PMO) for Maritime Affairs Jalil Eslami announced on Tuesday that the Iranian oil tanker which was seized by the British forces in the Strait of Gibraltar will be freed in the near future.

"Given the consultations of the Islamic Republic of Iran (with Britain), we believe that Grace 1 oil tanker will resume operation under Iranian flag in international waters in the very near future," Eslami told reporters in Tehran today.

Yet, he declined the mention any specific date or any other details on Grace 1's release from Gibraltar authority detention.

He added that seizure of the oil tanker was originally a wrong move out of biasedness, noting that Iran immediately started its efforts to free the vessel and a number of official and non-official documents have been exchanged between the two sides, although he reserved any more comments on the nature of these documents.

British marines and Gibraltar police seized an Iranian tanker off the Southern coast of the Iberian Peninsula on July 4. Gibraltar's Chief Minister Fabian Picardo claimed that the ship was transporting crude oil to Syria allegedly in violation of the EU sanctions placed on Damascus. Washington has applauded the move, hailing it as a sign that Europe is on board with the US' unilateral sanctions against Iran.

The Iranian Foreign Ministry condemned the illegal move of London and described it as tantamount to piracy. Tehran accused the UK of doing Washington's bidding and helping the US attempt to stifle the Islamic Republic's oil exports, rejecting London's claim that the supertanker was carrying crude for Syria.

On July 16, Ayatollah Khamenei slammed Britain's illegal seizure of the oil tanker, warning London of a pending response to the seizure of the supertanker that he referred to as a case of "piracy".

Then in Mid-July, the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) naval forces seized a foreign ship smuggling fuel in the Persian Gulf, according to a statement by the public relations office of the IRGC Navy's first zone. The foreign vessel was smuggling a million liters of fuel from Iran and was seized in Iranian waters South of Lark island. Yet, a statement issued by the IRGC on Thursday denied that any other foreign ship had been seized during the last week as claimed by the western media. The statement reiterated that the ship had been seized for "smuggling fuel from Iran", and no other reason.

Gibraltar's Supreme Court ruled on July 19 that the Iranian tanker seized by Britain's Royal Marines can be detained for 30 more days. The court's decision came a day after a senior Gibraltar's official described as constructive talks with Iran, raising hopes that the tanker would be released imminently.

Hours after the court's new decision, the IRGC's Navy impounded, a British-flagged oil tanker, Stena Impero, when it was passing through the Strait of Hormuz en route to Saudi Arabia "for failing to respect international maritime rules.

"UK tanker ship, Stena Impero, has been detained by the vessels unit of the IRGC Navy's First Naval Zone at the request of the Ports and Maritime Organization's office of Hormuzgan province for disregarding international maritime rules and regulations as it was passing through the Strait of Hormuz this afternoon," the statement by the IRGCN public relations said.

The statement added that the ship had been escorted to the Iranian coastal waters in Hormuzgan province and its control had been transferred to the Ports and Maritime Organization for further legal procedures and investigations.

Source: Fars News Agency