Iranian tanker held in Gibraltar delivered oil to Syria, says US

The United States has evidence that the Iranian tanker Adrian Darya 1 has transferred its crude oil to the Syrian government, breaking assurances it gave not to sell crude to the country, the US State Department said on Thursday.

British commandos on July 4 seized the vessel, formerly named the Grace 1, on suspicion that it was en route to Syria in breach of European Union sanctions. Gibraltar released it on August 15 after getting written Iranian assurances that it would not discharge its 2.1 million barrels of oil in Syria.

Gibraltar had acted in good faith when it released the Adrian Darya 1 tanker and Iran broke assurances it had given not to sell the crude oil to Syria, the British territory’s maritime minister said on Friday.

“We released the vessel in good faith based on assurances given by a sovereign nation,” said Gilbert Licudi, minister with responsibility for port and maritime affairs.

“The information we have is that despite the assurances that were given to the Gibraltar government that the vessel would not unload in Syria it appears that is what has actually happened,” he told Reuters on a visit to London.

Licudi said he did not know “for a fact” whether the ship had discharged the cargo at sea.

“It does not necessarily have to be in port, it can be ship-to-ship transfers in different amounts of cargoes and then it is delivered,” he said.

Britain’s foreign ministry on Tuesday said the tanker had sold its crude oil to the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, breaking those assurances, and that the oil had been transferred to Syria.

Iran’s envoy to Britain, who was summoned by the British foreign ministry over the matter, on Wednesday said Adrian Darya 1’s oil cargo was sold at sea to a private company, denying Tehran had broken assurances it gave. He also said the private buyer of the oil “sets the sale destination”.

Asked on Thursday if the United States had evidence that the ship had offloaded its crude oil to Syria, State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus told reporters: “Yeah ... The Iranian regime delivered oil to Syria, and that fuel goes straight into the tanks of troops that are slaughtering innocent Syrians.”

Pressed on whether Washington had evidence of such a transfer from the Adrian Darya 1, Ortagus added: “I wouldn’t say that if we didn’t.”

On Tuesday, the State Department had stopped short of confirming whether Iran had sold the oil to Assad’s government, but strongly suggested it had.

The tanker’s last reported position off Syria’s coast was on September 2 before its public tracking transponder went dark, Refinitiv data showed.

USA versus European law

Gibraltar refused a US request to seize the tanker in August, saying it was unable to comply because it was bound by European Union law.

Licudi said Gibraltar had taken the decision to intercept the ship in July.

“There was certainly no pressure from the US or from anybody else or even the UK. This was a decision that had to be taken because of our international responsibilities and our international obligations.”

The United States, which last year abandoned the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, has imposed severe sanctions on Tehran designed to cut Iran’s oil exports to zero, starve it of resources and force it to accept more stringent limitations on its nuclear and missile programs as well as other regional activities.

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS)