Madrid: All 24 Indian crew members, including the captain of the Iranian oil supertanker were released by authorities in Gibraltar despite eleventh-hour efforts by the United States to halt the move to release it. The Supreme Court in the British territory of Gibraltar approved the release of the Grace 1, which was seized off the country's coast by authorities last month, after officials said they no longer wished to detain it. The arrested Indian crew members - the master, chief officer and two second mates - were aboard the Panama-flagged supertanker.
India's minister of state for external affairs V Muraleedharan, said after the release of Iranian ship ‘Grace 1’ tweeted, “Spoke to our High Commission @HCI_London on VLCC Grace 1. They confirmed all 24 Indian crew aboard VLCC Grace 1 have been released by Gibraltar authorities and are free to return to India,” Earlier reports said the police proceedings against four Indian crew members aboard the supertanker had ended and they were released. “I am grateful and thankful for my release. And I am grateful to all who have facilitated my release in my legal team,” the captain of the Grace 1 tanker said in a statement.
The ship was seized six weeks ago as it passed through Gibraltar's territorial waters for allegedly taking crude oil to Syria, in breach of European Union (EU) sanctions. However, the Gibraltar authorities have since been denying the allegations. Two weeks later, Iran seized a British ship in the Gulf, in what was widely regarded as a tit-for-tat operation. The release of the Grace 1 will potentially ease tensions between London and Tehran, which still holds a British-flagged vessel. In past weeks, the Persian Gulf region has seen six attacks on oil tankers that the US has blamed on Iran. Iran denied it was behind the tanker attacks, although it has seized other tankers. Tensions increased between Iran and the West after US President Trump pulled Washington out of Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers over a year ago.
Gibraltar Chief Minister Fabian Picardo said the US could still begin a new legal procedure for seizing the Grace 1, but that provisions under the European Union’s sanctions regulations were ending on August 15 after the Iranian government assured him in writing that the ship will not send its 2.1 million barrels of crude to a sanctioned entity in Syria. "On 13 August, I received written assurance from the Republic of Iran that, if released, the destination of Grace 1 would not be an entity that is subject to European Union sanctions. I welcome that assurance. This is an important material change in the destination of the vessel and the beneficiary of its cargo," said Picardo.
Reacting to the developments, Iran’s foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted: “Having failed to accomplish its objectives through its #EconomicTerrorism - including depriving cancer patients of medicine - the US attempted to abuse the legal system to steal our property on the high seas.” Zarif also called the Trump administration’s move a “piracy attempt”.
It was not clear whether Grace 1 would sail away immediately; nor was it known what the Trump’s administration strategy was. The US justice department did not respond to requests for comment.
In a statement following the Gibraltar decision, Britain’s foreign office warned Iran to abide by the assurances that led to the release.