Iran denies giving Gibraltar assurances for release of tanker

Amir Havasi
The Iranian supertanker Grace 1 was seized on July 4

Iranian officials on Friday denied that any assurances were given to Gibraltar to release an Iranian tanker now sailing on into the Mediterranean, calling it a "victory" for Tehran.

The ship's seizure, with the help of British Royal Marines, had triggered a sharp deterioration in relations between Tehran and London and what Britain saw as the tit-for-tat detention by Iran of the British-flagged tanker Stena Impero.

Gibraltar's Supreme Court ordered the tanker released on Thursday after the British overseas territory said it had received written assurances from Iran that the Grace 1 would not head to any country subject to European Union sanctions.

The ship had been detained on suspicion that its cargo was destined for the Banias oil refinery in Syria in breach of an EU embargo.

But Iran denied it had provided any assurances to secure the ship's release, saying Gibraltar was only seeking to "save face".

"Iran has given no assurances over the Grace 1 not going to Syria to secure its release," the state broadcaster's youth website quoted foreign ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi as saying Friday.

"The tanker's destination was not Syria ... and even if it was, it did not concern anyone else."

Government spokesman Ali Rabiei hailed a victory for Iran that he said had been achieved without making any concessions.

"Our illegally seized oil tanker is set free. This victory without giving any collateral is the result of #powerful_diplomacy and strong will to fight for a nation's rights," Rabiei said in a tweet.

- Tanker to fly Iran flag -

The Grace 1 will be renamed and switch to the Iranian flag for its onward journey into the Mediterranean, senior Iranian shipping official Jalil Eslami said.

"At the owner's request, the Grace 1 will depart for the Mediterranean after being reflagged under the Islamic Republic of Iran's flag and renamed as Adrian Darya for the voyage," Eslami told state television.

The ship was originally Panama-flagged and is carrying two million barrels of Iranian oil, he added.

Hours before the court's ruling, the administration of US President Donald Trump, which has waged a campaign of "maximum pressure" against Iran, launched a last-minute legal move demanding that the Gibraltar authorities extend the vessel's detention.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted that the US attempt at "piracy" had failed, saying it showed the Trump administration's "contempt for the law".

Tehran and Washington have been at loggerheads since Trump withdrew from a landmark 2015 nuclear deal between major powers and Iran last year and reimposed crippling unilateral sanctions.

Following the Grace 1's release, Britain renewed its demand that Iran release the British-flagged tanker it seized in the Strait of Hormuz on July 19.

Tehran charged that the Stena Impero was in violation of "international maritime rules" but the move was widely seen as retaliation for the detention of the Grace 1.