Gibraltar frees Iranian supertanker despite US pleas to stop its release

  • Video report by ITV News Correspondent Lucy Watson

The Iranian supertanker seized off the coast of Gibraltar has been freed, despite the US' pleas to stop its release.

Grace 1, which was carrying Iranian oil, was stopped by Royal Marines and Gibraltar authorities on July 4 for breaching international sanctions on oil shipments.

Gibraltar's chief minister Fabian Picardo confirmed the 1,082 ft vessel had been released.

Iranian supertanker the Grace 1. Credit: MoD/PA

He said: "In light of the assurances we have received, there are no longer any reasonable grounds for the continued legal detention of the Grace 1 in order to ensure compliance with the EU Sanctions Regulation."

"The Grace 1 is therefore now released from detention under the Sanctions Act by operation of law as confirmed this afternoon by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court."

Footage from Thursday afternoon appears to show the Grace 1 leaving the coast of Gibraltar.

The Gibraltar government confirmed the US Department of Justice had sought to extend the detention of the oil tanker Grace 1, prompting the Supreme Court in the territory to adjourn a scheduled decision on whether to release the ship.

“The US Department of Justice has applied to seize the Grace 1 on a number of allegations which are now being considered,” the Gibraltar government said in a statement.

The Justice Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Grace 1 was detained off Gibraltar last month Credit: PA

The British Foreign Office said the “investigations conducted around the Grace 1 are a matter for the government of Gibraltar”, and that it could not comment further as the investigation is ongoing.

While there was no immediate reaction from Tehran, the US move will likely further stir tensions in the Persian Gulf.

The detention of the Grace 1 saw Iran later seize the British-flagged oil tanker Stena Impero, which remains held by the Islamic Republic.

Analysts had hoped the release of the Grace 1 by Gibraltar would see the Stena Impero similarly released.

The Grace 1 was seized last month in a British Royal Navy operation off Gibraltar. The vessel was suspected of violating European Union sanctions on oil shipments to Syria.

The British-flagged Stena Impero was detained by Iranian forces in the Strait of Hormuz Credit: Revolutionary Guard/AP

The Gibraltar government had said it was seeking to “de-escalate” the situation over the Grace 1.

Speculation on the impending release had mounted around Thursday’s hearing at the Gibraltar Supreme Court. But a lawyer representing the territory’s General Attorney Michael Llamas said the US had moved at the 11th hour.

The Gibraltar Chronicle said the captain and three officers of the Grace 1 had been released from arrest on Thursday, but the report could not be confirmed.

The newspaper claimed Gibraltar’s Chief Justice Anthony Dudley had said that were it not for the US move, “the ship would have sailed”.