How Iran fooled the British: The Iranian tanker, arrested in July 2019 in Gibraltar for violating sanctions against Syria and Iran, landed safe sound back in Iran landed safe and sound back in Iran.
The British Foreign Office qualified as “Deeply troubling” the satellite images taken in September 2019, showing the tanker “Adrian Darya-1” flying the Iranian flag, now renamed as Grace 1, anchored off Tartus’s port in Syria.
London raised its voices days later, accusing Iran of “breaking its assurances and calling the delivery of oil to the murderous el-Assad regime”. In a press release, the British Ministry qualified this act as an “unacceptable violation of international standards”.
The transporter’s journey began on July the 4th off Gibraltar. British Navy commandos boarded the Iranian tanker, flying the Panamanian flag and carrying 2.1 million barrels of crude oil. The tanker was suspected by British authorities of transporting the cargo to Syria, thus violating the EU sanctions against Bashar el-Assad’s regime.
Two weeks later, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards seized in the Strait of Hormuz, “the Stena Impero”, a Tanker flying the British flag. The vessel was transported to the port in Bandar Abbas, where the authorities indicated that an investigation was under way following the tanker’s collision with a fishing vessel.
The Iranian authorities pledged the law, stating that “According to law, after an accident, it was necessary to investigate the causes”. They denied any link between this case and the seizure by the UK of the Iranian oil tanker off Gibraltar.
British diplomat Jeremy Hunt qualified this act as “unacceptable” and considered the boarding to be “worrying signs that Iran might choose a dangerous path of illegal and destabilizing behavior”. France and Germany supported the British position and called on Iran to release the British vessel “without delay”.
A Diplomatic-legal negotiation was committed on the 15th, August; Gibraltar’s Supreme Court allowed the Iranian tanker to leave after Tehran assured the cargo would not be delivered to Syria. Adrian Darya-1, now renamed Grace 1, was released the next day.
At the same time, Gibraltar’s authorities refused to maintain the seizure of the ship as demanded by Washington. The latter then contacted the Indian master of the ship and offered him a substantial amount of money so that he would not sail to Syria but in a route where the US could seize the tanker.
On 26 August 2019, Iran claimed to have sold 2.1 million barrels of oil, valued at 125 million euros, stored on board of a ship, without specifying who the buyer was or whether the sale was concluded before or after the seizure of the tanker.
The Adrian Darya 1 was sailing in the Mediterranean sea with no known destination, when the specialized website “Marine Traffic” reported on 30th August 2019 that tanker was located in the north-west of Cyprus and heading for the port of Iskenderun in Turkey.
The Turkish Foreign Minister replied that the “tanker was not actually on its way to Iskenderun, but to Lebanon” and that “Lebanon was not necessarily the ship’s final destination”. Nada Boustani, the Lebanese Energy Minister, assured that her country had not received any request for the ship to be anchored off its coast. The minister added on Twitter that “The Ministry of Energy doesn’t buy crude oil from anyone. Lebanon does not have a refinery for crude oil”.
While everyone was shifting the blame of the ship’s seizure on others, a Russian official announced on 6th September 2019 from Teheran, that 7 of the 23 sailors from the British tanker who boarded in July had been released by the Iranian authorities and had arrived in Dubai.
Two days later, satellite photos of Adrian Darya 1 off the Syrian port of Tartus were broadcasted by Maxar Technologies Inc.
Conflicting information was circulating about the unloading of the tanker’s contents days later. British intelligence’s sources assured that barrels of oil had been unloaded on small boats that could be shipped to Syria.
Meanwhile, the specialized website TankerTrackers.com continued to claim, based on satellite images, that the tanker off Tartus still contained all of its cargo.
A statement from Iran’s Ports and Maritime Organization said the ship had been released “despite there being an open court case” against it. The release comes amid high tensions in the region. There have been a series of confrontations over tankers in the Gulf, as well as a recent attack on Saudi Arabia have blamed on Tehran.
Tensions between the US and Iran have been escalating, following former President Trump’s rejection of a deal aimed at limiting Iran’s nuclear activities.