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article imageOp-Ed: UK seizure of Iranian tanker Grace 1 arguably illegal

By Ken Hanly     Jul 22, 2019 in World
On Thursday July 4 Gibraltar police and customs agents with the help of a detachment of British Royal Marines boarded and impounded the Iranian-owned supertanker Grace 1 in the straits of Gibraltar allegedly at the request of the United States.
Justification for seizure of ship is possible violations of EU sanctions
As a Reuters article put it: "British Royal Marines seized a giant Iranian oil tanker in Gibraltar on Thursday for trying to take oil to Syria in violation of EU sanctions, a dramatic step that drew Tehran’s fury and could escalate its confrontation with the West."
Gabriel Picard Gibraltar Chief Minister explained the seizure: "The Gibraltar government said it had reasonable grounds to believe that the Grace 1 was carrying crude oil to the Baniyas refinery in Syria. 'That refinery is the property of an entity that is subject to European Union sanctions against Syria,' Gibraltar Chief Minister Fabian Picardo said. 'With my consent, our port and law enforcement agencies sought the assistance of the Royal Marines in carrying out this operation.'"
To make matters worse, on July 19 the Gibraltar court extended the detention of the Grace 1 for another 30 days. Gibraltar Chief Minister Fabian Picarod said that he had a constructive and positive meeting with Iranian officials in London that was aimed at defusing tensions around the tanker's detention. He said: "We look forward to continuing to work constructively and positively with officials of the Islamic Republic of Iran to facilitate the release of the Grace 1 pursuant to the satisfaction of all legal requirements." Jeremy Hunt the UK foreign secretary said that the UK would facilitate the release of the vessel if Iran guaranteed that the tanker would travel on to deliver oil to Syria in violation of EU sanctions.
Later on Friday, July 19, Iran responded in kind by seizing the UK tanker Stena Impera off the coast of Oman allegedly for security reasons. The Iranians also claim the tanker hit a fishing boat.
Iran's reaction
Javad Zarif the Iranian Foreign Minister said that the UK seizure of the Grace 1 was a "pure and simple" act of piracy on behalf of what he calls the B-Team. The B-team is described as follows: "The hawkish group referred to as the “B-team” by Iran's foreign minister is comprised of US National Security Adviser John Bolton, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan."
While it is unlikely that any of the B-Team were directly involved in the seizure of the Grace 1 except perhaps Bolton, no doubt all the other are pleased. The seizure set in motion a process that has increased tensions with the Iranian response being to seize a UK tanker. Increased tension could result in a US intervention against Syria which no doubt would please the B-Team. The US apparently did request the seizure.
Iran is not subject to EU sanctions
The EU sanctions subject EU nations to a ban on selling oil to Syria, but Iran is not an EU nation and so is not subject to the sanctions. To apply the sanctions to Iran is a case of extraterritorial application of laws, something the US does all the time by threatening firms in other countries from doing any business with the US if they do not obey them. The EU has opposed US policy. Indeed, the EU is in conflict with the US over application of US sanctions to companies in EU countries. Specific EU countries, France, the UK and Germany plus the EU are obliged not to sanction Iran under the P5 + 1 agreement. Trump withdrew the US from the agreement and placed sanctions on Iran. As many companies in the EU are following US sanctions Iran is angry and has broken some of the terms of the agreement in response.
Zarif points out that Iran is not subject to the EU tariffs and notes that the EU has been opposed to extraterritoriality but is now applying its own sanctions to those not subject to them ironically at the request of the US apparently.
Carl Bildt's statement
The former Swedish PM Carl BIldt who is also co-chair of the European council on foreign relations also questions the legality of the UK seizure of the Grace 1 saying: “The legality of the UK seizure of a tanker heading for Syria with oil from Iran intrigues me. One refers to EU sanctions against Syria, but Iran is not a member of the EU. And the EU as a principle doesn’t impose its sanctions on others. That’s what the US does.”
The actual reason for the seizure of the tanker is probably to help the US in its goal to prevent any export of Iranian oil. The UK is as is often the case a willing accomplice in carrying out the US aim. an aim that no doubt all members of the B-Team share.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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