Washington DC – Wednesday– (08-14-2019) – New York Institute for foreign Policy Affairs (NYCFPA): The United Kingdom and Iran are taking steps toward releasing the Iranian tanker impounded in Gibraltar, a British overseas territory. This could prompt Tehran to free a British-flagged vessel it subsequently seized. This could defuse tensions between the two countries.
Gibraltar seized an Iranian tanker called Grace 1 in early July with the assistance of British Royal Marines. United Kingdom authorities said the tanker was headed to Syria in violation of European Union sanctions, however, Iran has denied this. Iran threatened retaliation and two weeks later, after accusing the ship of breaking international maritime rules, captured the British-flagged tanker Stena Impero in the Persian Gulf.
Iran’s threat to commercial shipping in the Strait of Hormuz, through which a third of the world’s seaborne oil is transported, added to the already high tensions between Iran and the West after the Trump administration imposed crippling sanctions on Tehran. Under the President’s sanctions, shipping premiums rose and some vessel owners started to avoid the region. The United Kingdom has sent a second warship to protect British vessels in the region and said it would protect maritime traffic there by joining a U.S.-led coalition.
Attempts by Gibraltar to resolve the crisis have been blocked by several hurdles, including Iran’s own tactics in circumventing United States sanctions. The oil in the tanker was declared as Iraqi, but Iraqi authorities denied ownership of the oil. Iran has also exchanged specific documents that would help the United Kingdom release the tanker.
Yesterday, a United States’ official said that Washington would not try to block the release of the Iranian as long as it did not go to Iran or Syria. Iran has not formally stated that it would release the United Kingdom vessel if its own tanker was freed in Gibraltar. However, Iranian officials have indicated that this move would help end the detention of the Stena Impero.
NYCFPA calls on Iran to release the British ship. If not, tensions will only continue to rise and worsen. It will create instability in the region.