As Released Iranian Supertanker Heads for Greece, US Warns Ports Not to Assist It

Patrick Goodenough | August 20, 2019 | 4:19am EDT
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The Iranian supertanker Grace 1, now renamed the Adrian Darya, photographed before it left Gibraltar waters. (Photo by Jorge Guerrero/AFP/Getty Images)

( – The supertanker at the center of a wrangle involving Iran, Britain and the United States is making for Greece after being released from custody in Gibraltar, and the U.S. is warning Athens that any assistance it gives the ship could constitute providing material support to a U.S.-designated foreign terrorist organization (FTO).

A State Department official told wire services that the U.S. had made its “strong position” clear to Greece, “as well as all ports in the Mediterranean,” about not helping the tanker.

The U.S. believes the vessel was transporting oil to Syria, a transaction that would benefit both the Assad regime as the buyer and the coffers of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), which the U.S. government labeled an FTO last April.

According to the MarineTraffic website the tanker, known until several days ago as Grace I but hastily Iran-flagged and renamed the Adrian Darya, is currently in the western Mediterranean, roughly 250 miles east of the British territory of Gibraltar, headed for the Greek port of Kalamata, where it is estimated to arrive on the afternoon of Monday, August 26 (local time)

The Iranian regime secured the release of the ship only after it gave “written assurances” to authorities in Gibraltar that it would not convey its cargo of 2.1 million barrels of crude oil to Syria.

The tanker had been boarded and detained in Gibraltar early last month on the grounds it was taking oil to Syria in violation of European Union sanctions against the Assad regime.

The red dot marks the approximate position of the Iranian tanker early Tuesday, following its departure from Gibraltar. It is reportedly headed for Kalamata in Greece, and U.S. officials believe it plans to take its cargo of crude oil on to Baniyas in Syria. (Image: Google Maps)

Gibraltar’s chief minister, Fabian Picardo said on Thursday that the detention order was being lifted on the strength of “written assurance from the Republic of Iran that, if released, the destination of Grace 1 would not be an entity that is subject to European Union sanctions.”

The Foreign Office in London also referred to that Iranian commitment and said the British government expected Tehran to abide by it.

“We will not stand by and allow Iran – or anyone – to bypass vital E.U. sanctions on a regime that has deployed chemical weapons against its own people,” it said in a statement.

U.S. officials, however, believe Iran is going back on its word, and that the ship – now cynically renamed – is continuing its interrupted journey to the port of Baniyas in Syria.

(Earlier, Iran repeatedly denied that the ship’s destination was Syria, but without offering an alternative explanation. The IRGC also seized a British-flagged oil tanker in the Strait of Hormuz which remains in Iranian hands. A senior Iranian lawmaker on Monday praised what he called the regime’s “revolutionary diplomacy of resistance” for securing the release of the Grace I/Adrian Darya.)

‘Weakness never is the right outcome’

The U.S. at the weekend sought to stop the release of the ship from Gibraltar. The Department of Justice announced the unsealing of a warrant for the seizure of the ship, its cargo, and $995,000 in cash, citing the violation of statutes dealing with fraud, money laundering, confiscation of assets for terrorism-related activities, as well as the International Emergency Economic Powers Act.

“The documents allege a scheme to unlawfully access the U.S. financial system to support illicit shipments to Syria from Iran by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), a designated foreign terrorist organization,” the Department of Justice said.

“The scheme involves multiple parties affiliated with the IRGC and furthered by the deceptive voyages of the Grace 1,” it said. “A network of front companies allegedly laundered millions of dollars in support of such shipments.”

However, the Gibraltar authorities turned down the request to restrain the ship from leaving, citing the differences in sanctions regimes applicable to Iran in the U.S. and in the E.U. (The U.S. and E.U. are at odds over President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal and restore U.S. sanctions against the regime.)

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Monday night expressed disappointment at the British decision.

“It’s unfortunate that that happened,” he told Fox News, saying that if the IRGC was successful in selling the oil – “and we hope that they’re ultimately not” – then it would have more resources to continue its campaign of terrorism and assassinations in Europe.

“This is what we’re trying to stop, so it’s very unfortunate that that ship was released.”

Asked whether Britain was perhaps hoping that allowing the Iranian tanker to leave would lead to the Iranian regime releasing the British ship seized in Hormuz, Pompeo replied, “Weakness never is the right outcome.”

The crude oil onboard the Iranian vessel is worth an estimated $140 million.

Iran’s foreign ministry on Monday warned the United States not to consider seizing the tanker, saying doing so would be a mistake and result in “bad consequences.”

“We hope that countries will respond to U.S. unilateral sanctions in a law-abiding way and will not accept them because the sanctions have no basis,” said ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi.

Iran’s armed forces chief of staff, Maj. Gen. Mohammad Hossein Baqeri, said in a speech in Tehran on Monday that the release of the Iranian tanker showed that Iran was “at the heights of its power.”

“These incidents, including the shooting down of a U.S. intruding spy drone and the seizure of the violating British oil tanker, and finally, the release of our tanker in Gibraltar, reflect the fact that the Islamic Revolution powerfully continues its path to achieve its exalted causes,” he said.

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