GP Insights # 129, 17 August 2019
Gibraltar, a British overseas territory, has decided to allow the seized Iranian supertanker to leave the territory. It comes in the wake of the US government’s last-minute attempt to hold it when it issued a warrant for the seizure.
However, it did not give enough indications when and how it would be released. Also, it is reported that, if it were not for the US legal hurdle, the vessel would have set for a sail. Grace 1 was captured by British Royal Navy commandos of the coast of Gibraltar on July 4, on the charge that Iran was violating European Union sanctions by taking oil to Syria.
What is the background?
Events started to unfold when the US unilaterally decided to break away from the 2015 nuclear deal, that was concluded, with Iran along with P5+1 members. Before the seizure of Iranian oil tanker by the British military in the Gibraltar strait, incidents related to ‘ attack on oil tankers’ in the Gulf has been reported. The US blames Iran though the latter has denied these allegations.
Tensions escalated further in the Gulf when Iran shot down US drone in the region. Immediately after the detention of Grace1, Iran seized British flagged tanker- Stena Impero. Incidentally, Iran referred to the British action as ‘act of piracy’.
What does this mean?
Freeing of Iranian oil tanker conveys the changing picture between Europe and Iran. UK wants to conduct its affairs with Iran on its terms without the US. Furthermore, Britain expects Iran to not to backtrack on the nuclear deal. Britain wants to tell Iran that all parties in the deal are making an effort to uphold the deal in letter and spirit even after US withdrawal.
The release of tanker also indicates how far the rest are willing to maintain the Iran deal and not allow Tehran to persuade the nuclear program. It is also expected that it would motivate Iran to reciprocate by releasing, along with its crew, Stena Impero- the British flagged oil tanker.