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U.S. Issues Warrant To Seize Iranian Tanker Preparing To Leave Gibraltar

The United States says it has issued a warrant for the seizure of the Iranian oil supertanker Grace 1, one day after a judge in Gibraltar said he was allowing detained vessel to depart.

The warrant issued on August 16 says the tanker, all of the oil aboard, and $995,000 are subject to forfeiture, citing what it called violations of the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA), and bank fraud, money-laundering, and terrorism statutes.

The Justice Department accused the ship of scheming to "unlawfully access the U.S. financial system to support illicit shipments to Syria from Iran by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), a designated foreign terrorist organization."

The warrant, filed in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., was addressed to "the United States Marshal's Service and/or any other duly authorized law-enforcement officer."

The ship shifted its position in the port on August 16 but was awaiting arrival of a new crew before it would leave Gibraltar waters.

It was not immediately clear what effect the issuance of the U.S. warrant would have on its plan to depart.

Gibraltar Chief Minister Fabian Picardo said earlier in the day that the supertanker seized six weeks ago was free to leave the British Mediterranean territory as soon as it is ready, and that Gibraltar's Supreme Court would weigh any U.S. effort to stop the Grace 1 from leaving.

The ship was detained by British Royal Marines on July 4 on suspicion it was smuggling oil to Syria in breach of European Union sanctions. Tehran denied the allegations.

Iranian officials on August 16 said the vessel was being renamed and reflagged and that it would soon leave Gibraltar.

"At the owner's request, the Grace 1 will depart for the Mediterranean after being reflagged under the Islamic Republic of Iran's flag and renamed as Adrian Darya for the voyage," Jalil Eslami, deputy head of Iran's Ports and Maritime Organization, said on state TV.

"The ship was of Russian origin and Panama-flagged and is carrying 2 million barrels of Iranian oil," he added.

Prior to announcement of the warrant, the United States said the crew of the supertanker could be subject to a U.S. visa ban.

The State Department said the Grace 1 was assisting Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), which Washington deems a "terrorist organization."

A message to all mariners � if you crew an IRGC or other FTO-affiliated ship, you jeopardize future entry to the U.S., Secretary Mike Pompeo said in a tweet on August 16.

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