Gibraltar Judge Rules To Release Seized Iranian Tanker

Update (1020ET): As expected a Gibraltar judge has agreed to release the seized Iranian oil tanker, Grace 1 (which was allegedly shipping 2.1m barrels of crude to Syria, breaching EU sanctions).

As Gibraltar Chronicle reports, the decision to release the ship was taken hours after the US reportedly launched a separate last-minute legal move to detain the vessel.

But Chief Justice Anthony Dudley said that there was no US application currently before the court.

“That’s not before me,” he said.

“There are no applications in relation to the US letters of request [for mutual legal assistance].”

"The detention is over immediately," according to the judge, but it was not immediately clear why that decision had been taken.

Iran reportedly gave authorities in Gibralta an undertaking on the tanker's destination.

"From the minute that the judge made his order, the ship is no longer any compulsion to stay within the jurisdiction," lawyer Charles Gomez says outside the Supreme Court of Gibraltar of the supertanker at the center of a standoff with Tehran.

However, it is not clear at this stage when the ship will sail from Gibraltar , or whether the US will formally apply to the court to detain it before that happens.

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A Gibraltar court decision expected Thursday on whether to release the Iranian oil tanker Grace 1 has been delayed over a last minute push by the United States to take custody.

The Gibraltar Chronicle reported that the court was set to release the Panamanian-flagged tanker, which had been boarded by Royal Marines in early July and caught carrying 2 million barrels of Iranian oil bound for Syria, but that US intervention has prevented a ruling. 

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

    Image source: Getty

    US intervention also comes at a crucial moment when negotiations between Britain and Iran were said to be making progress toward a tanker swap. It is expected that as soon as the Grace 1 is released British-flagged vessel Stena Impero - which had been seized in the Strait of Hormuz as retaliation - will also in turn be released by the Iranians.

    British overseas territory Gibraltar has also said the Grace 1's captain and three officers will also soon go free, who have been detained since the July 4 incident which Tehran condemned as "piracy" on the part of the west.

    The UK for its part claimed to have upheld EU sanctions on Syria, with Iran countering that it had taken the unprecedented action merely at the behest of the US. Given Thursday's Washington intervention in the Grace 1's release, Tehran's argument appears to have been validated. 

    A further Gibraltar court decision is expected later in the day Thursday, and it will be interesting if there is push back against the US from the UK, given the Stena Impero's fate hangs in the balance.