TEHRAN, Young Journalists Club (YJC) - On July 4, Gibraltar police and customs agencies, aided by a detachment of British Royal Marines, boarded and impounded Iranian supertanker Grace 1 in the Strait of Gibraltar, upon a request from the United States.
The British and Gibraltarian officials claim that the 300,000-ton supertanker was possibly transferring up to 2 million barrels of oil to the Baniyas refinery in Syria in breach of EU sanctions against the Arab country.
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi rejected the claim Friday, saying the tanker was not bound for Syria because no Syrian port could receive a vessel of such capacity.
“The documents and evidence and the contradictory remarks made by the British all indicate that London’s allegation, legally speaking, is not that significant and noteworthy unless they would want to enter into a dangerous game under the influence of the Americans with no end in sight,” Mousavi said.
Speaking in an interview with IRNA, the Iranian spokesman advised the UK against such a scenario “under the current circumstances”.
“We still demand that they release this oil tanker as soon as possible because that’s to the benefit of everyone,” he added.
Shortly after the seizure, Iran’s Foreign Ministry summoned Britain’s ambassador to the country to express its strong protest at the move.
At the Foreign Ministry, Rob Macaire was told that the British Royal Marines’ move was tantamount to “maritime piracy”, and that the UK must immediately release the oil tanker.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani also warned the UK about the “consequences” of the move, calling the action “very juvenile, heinous, and wrongful” and “to their [Britain’s] detriment.”
“I remind the Britons,” Rouhani cautioned on Wednesday, “you are the ones initiating insecurity, and will come to realize its consequences in the future.”
Following the incident, British ships operating in the Persian Gulf have been put on the highest state of alert amid fears that Iran may reciprocate the illegal action.
A commercial ship, British Heritage, had been due to collect oil in Basra, Iraq, but abruptly turned around on Saturday on the basis of a British government advice.
However, the waters in which British Heritage was accosted belong to Iran, and it is not possible for British shipping to go through the Strait of Hormuz without entering Iranian waters.
On Thursday, the UK government claimed that a number of speedboats “belonging to Iran’s IRGC” approached British Heritage at the northern entrance of the strait and ordered it to stop.
The Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) dismissed the claim that its naval forces tried to stop a British tanker in the Persian Gulf.
Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif also reacted to the allegations, saying they are merely meant to create tensions.
Those who make such claims attempt to “cover up their weak point,” he added. “Apparently the British tanker has passed. What they have said themselves and the claims that have been made are for creating tension and these claims have no value.”
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres called for "maximum restraint" in the Persian Gulf region and warned all parties that a new confrontation "would be a catastrophe."
UN deputy spokesman Farhan Haq reiterated the UN chief's plea to avoid any escalation when asked Thursday for Guterres' reaction to the developments.
Haq said the UN hopes all nations "will take steps to avoid" an escalation and confrontation.
Responding to a question on whether the secretary general supports US and other calls to escort ships passing through the Persian Gulf, Haq reiterated Guterres' call to avoid escalation.
"We want, of course, for everyone to allow for the freedom of movement of vessels and we're hopeful that they will abide by that," Haq said.