The United States has acted to seize an Iranian supertanker detained in Gibraltar for breaching international sanctions on oil shipments, seemingly thwarting efforts by authorities in London and the British overseas territory to defuse tensions with Tehran.
The Gibraltar government confirmed earlier reports that the US Department of Justice had sought 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 on Thursday.
“The US Department of Justice has applied to seize the Grace 1 on a number of allegations which are now being considered,” the Gibraltar government said in a statement.
The Justice Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The British Foreign Office said the “investigations conducted around the Grace 1 are a matter for the government of Gibraltar”, and that it could not comment further as the investigation is ongoing.
While there was no immediate reaction from Tehran, the US move will likely further stir tensions in the Persian Gulf.
The detention of the Grace 1 saw Iran later seize 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 Grace 1 was seized last month in a British Royal Navy operation off Gibraltar. The vessel was suspected of violating European Union sanctions on oil shipments to Syria.
The Gibraltar government had said it was seeking to “de-escalate” the situation over the Grace 1.
Signalling preparations for the expected release of the ship, the captain, an Indian national, and three officers of the Grace 1 were released from detention early on Thursday.
But as speculation mounted over the Grace 1’s release, a lawyer representing the territory’s General Attorney Michael Llamas said the US had moved at the 11th hour.
The Gibraltar Chronicle reported Gibraltar’s Chief Justice Anthony Dudley as saying that were it not for the US move, “the ship would have sailed”.