Britain Seizes Iranian Tanker Bound for Syria

IR imaging of the Grace 1 and an approaching helicopter (MoD)

Published Jul 4, 2019 2:01 PM by The Maritime Executive

British commandos have seized an Iranian tanker carrying oil that the UK believes was intended for delivery to Syria, in violation of both the EU sanctions on Syrian imports and the U.S. sanctions on Iranian exports. 

The Iranian-controlled VLCC Grace 1 departed the Persian Gulf in March, then transited around the Cape of Good Hope to the Atlantic - not through the Suez Canal (which she would be too large to pass). She then made for the Mediterranean via the Strait of Gibraltar. On Thursday morning, upon a request for assistance from the government of Gibraltar, a team of 30 Royal Marines from 42 Commando roped onto the deck of the tanker when she entered the British territory's waters.

UK foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt congratulated the boarding team for its success. "Their swift action has denied valuable resources to [Syrian president Bashar al Assad]’s murderous regime," Hunt said. 

"Early this morning, Gibraltar port and maritime authorities, assisted by a detatchment of Royal Marines, boarded a supertanker headed to Syria. We have detained the vessel and its cargo," said Gibraltar chief minister Fabian Picardo. "We have reason to believe that the vessel was carrying its cargo to the Baniyas refinery in Syria."

Tehran described the action as “the illegal seizure of an Iranian oil tanker” and blamed Britain of acting on behalf of the United States, which has targeted Iran with a punitive sanctions regime. The Iranian government summoned the UK ambassador to Tehran in protest of the action. The EU is not party to the American sanctions on Iran, and as the UK is still part of the EU until at least October, Britain did not cite U.S. sanctions on Iran as a justification for its action.