The United States moved on Thursday to halt the release of an Iranian supertanker detained in Gibraltar for breaching European Union sanctions on oil shipments to Syria, thwarting efforts by authorities in London and the British overseas territory to defuse tensions with Tehran. The Gibraltar government confirmed that the US Justice Department seeks to extend the detention of the oil tanker Grace 1, prompting the Supreme Court in the territory to adjourn a scheduled decision on whether to release the ship until later in the day. "The [US DOJ] has applied to seize the Grace 1 on a number of allegations, which are now being considered," the Gibraltar government said, per the AP. While there was no immediate reaction from Tehran, the US move likely will further stir tensions in the Persian Gulf.
The Grace 1, carrying 2.1 million barrels of Iranian crude, was seized last month in a British Royal Navy operation off Gibraltar. Iran called the seizure by Gibraltar an "act of piracy." Shortly after the detention of the Grace 1, Iran seized the British-flagged oil tanker Stena Impero, which remains held by the Islamic Republic. Analysts had hoped the release of the Grace 1 by Gibraltar would see the Stena Impero similarly released. The Gibraltar government had said it was seeking to "de-escalate" the situation over the Grace 1. Signaling preparations for the expected release of the ship, the captain, an Indian national, and three officers of the Grace 1 were released from detention Thursday, the government said. Speaking in court, Chief Justice Anthony Dudley said that were it not for the US move, "the ship would have sailed," per the Gibraltar Chronicle. (Read more Iran stories.)